Can mental health disorders affect pregnant women and their babies?

Can a woman’s mental health affect her or her baby during the three stages of pregnancy – conceiving, during pregnancy, and post-delivery stage?

The first thing that is usually associated with mental health or mental health disorders is depression. But experts point out that mental health can also be affected due to stress and anxiety, which can lead to panic attacks, among other things. Which is why, it becomes extremely important to identify and seek the right professional guidance, especially if you are pregnant.

Since mental health issues aren’t openly discussed, it has become the leading cause of maternal deaths in pregnant women in this decade, mentioned Dr Vaishali Joshi, obstetrician and gynaecologist, Kokilaben Hospital and Cloudnine Hospital Mumbai. “We need forums and social awareness around it,” she added.

So an important question that arises is: can a woman’s mental health affect her or her baby during the three stages of pregnancy – conceiving, during pregnancy and post-delivery? Replying in the affirmative, Dr Joshi said that mental health is as important as the physical health of a mother-to-be.

“Mental health is as important as the physical and hormone health prior to planning a baby as pregnancy itself leads to a lot of changes in a woman’s body. Which is why, a woman’s mental health needs to be assessed prior to planning a pregnancy so that correct diagnosis and healthcare is provided, if required,” she said.

Here’s what needs to be taken care of

*If a mother-to-be is on medication, it is extremely important to have her medicines reviewed to make sure that the dosage is brought down to the least requirement because sometimes these medicines can have an effect on the unborn baby. At the same time, it is not advisable to stop these medicines altogether because they can lead to withdrawal symptoms, rebound and even worsening of mental health issues. Preconception planning needs to be done and one needs to continue taking periconceptional folic acid.

*Since there are some medications that can affect the growth of the baby leading to certain developmental defects and abnormalities, it is important to follow-up with regular check-ups to ensure the baby’s development is fine.

*If someone is suffering from anxiety, one needs to take the requisite medicine as the pregnancy hormone is known to increase anxiety. Considering a woman’s body undergoes a lot of changes, it is paramount to pay attention to anxiety concerns.

*Through the entire duration of pregnancy, the woman’s family must keep the psychiatrist in loop, because most of the times mental health patients don’t realise they are becoming depressed or witnessing a range of sudden emotions. People around will be the first one to pick up these signals. The sooner such problems are detected, the better they can be controlled and treated.

*Postpartum is one of the most challenging times for women because of the baby’s feeding schedule which can lead to sleeplessness among other issues. Even a healthy woman goes through a lot of psychological changes immediately after delivery.

*Postpartum blues take place in 75-80 per cent of women, which is transitory. Family support is essential to pick up the early signs because it has an impact on the baby, mother and child bonding, breast-feeding patterns among other things. One needs to make sure the mother gets enough sleep so that there is no mental exhaustion, and she takes her medication regularly.

*Another thing to keep in mind is that the medication can also secrete from the breast milk. Therefore, one needs to be sure of the safety of the medicines, and needs to discuss it prior to delivery.

*Postpartum depression, if detected early, can be completely treated with medicines. If it is not treated, there can be problems with bonding between the mother and the child. Sometimes, they can go into severe postnatal depression which can also lead to harming the child physically.

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