Other Factors

Maternal Mental Illnesses:

Postpartum "Blues", Depression, & Psychosis

Mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are conditions where a person’s thinking, mood and behaviours severely and negatively impact how a person functions in his or her life.


Mental illness that occurs in pregnancy or after having a baby is referred to as maternal mental illness.

If left untreated, maternal mental illnesses can have negative effects on both the mother and her child{ren}.

For the mother, it can put her at risk for premature delivery or may affect her ability to meet her own self care needs.

Likewise it can affect the child's care needs and put its health and development at risk, as parents may have altered ability to be attentive, attuned and able to respond appropriately to the infant or child{ren}.

Encouraging women to speak to a health care provider and get help early benefits both themselves and their children.

Types of Maternal Mental Illnesses:

Postpartum "blues"  refers to the negative feelings (mild anxiety & depression) and mood shifts a mother experiences after birth of a child or in some cases prenatally. These "blues" are very common. Up to 84% of new mothers will experience it. These negative feelings and mood shifts can last up to 2 weeks. They usually peak on day 3 to 5 postpartum and usually improve by day 12. 


Postpartum Depression is similar to Postpartum "blues" however, the symptoms are more severe and the duration tends to be longer. It is part of the spectrum of postpartum mood disorders. Postpartum Depression occurs in up to 19% of women.

Postpartum Psychosis is a rare but serious mental illness. The onset usually happens rapidly, in the first few weeks after childbirth. Postpartum psychosis requires immediate medical attention.






Who may be more vulnerable to experiencing Maternal Mental Illnesses include? Women with the following Risk Factors:

  • Personal history of anxiety, depression or other mental illnesses

  • Family history of poor mental health

  • Conflict with the partner relationship

  • Lack of practical, financial or emotional supports

  • Poor social support

  • Stressful life events, e.g. recent move to new culture, infertility, pregnancy loss, unhealthy relationships, loss of a family member or friend

If there are concerns of maternal mental illness, or if the woman has risk factors, advise the woman/family to contact her primary health care provider

Red Flags for Postpartum "Blues" & Depression: If mom is experiencing any of the following beyond 2 weeks of the birth of the child:

 General feelings of unhappiness without reason


 Mood swings



 Changes in appetite


 Loneliness or isolation

 Worry about their ability as a mother

 Conflicts in their roles and relationships

 Inability to cope

 Reduced interest or pleasure in family and/or activities

 Poor attachment (e.g., unable to read baby’s cues)​

 Thoughts of harming self or baby

 Recent stressful life event

 Substance abuse

Red Flags for Postpartum Psychosis: If mom is experiencing any of the following symptoms:

 Dramatic changes in mood i.e. from elated to depressed

 Out of touch with reality; cognitive impairment
 Severe depression

 Delusions and/or hallucinations
 Thoughts of harming self or baby

If the mother has any of the above symptoms of postpartum psychosis, DO NOT WAIT:


  • Establish the safety of the baby and/or child(ren)

  • Do not leave the mother alone


For more information on how red flag behaviours may be present in families experiencing maternal mental illnesses, please see sections on: Attachment, Social/Emotional, Abuse, Behaviour, Family Environmental Stressors



Services and Information related to Maternal Mental Illness:

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