NICE Guidelines : Antenatal and postnatal mental health: clinical management and service guidance


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NICE guidelines [CG192] Published date: December 2014

In pregnancy and the postnatal period, many mental health problems have a similar nature, course and potential for relapse as at other times. However, there can be differences; for example, bipolar disorder shows an increased rate of relapse and first presentation in the postnatal period. Some changes in mental health state and functioning (such as appetite) may represent normal pregnancy changes, but they may be a symptom of a mental health problem.

The management of mental health problems during pregnancy and the postnatal period differs from at other times because of the nature of this life stage and the potential impact of any difficulties and treatments on the woman and the baby. There are risks associated with taking psychotropic medication in pregnancy and during breastfeeding and risks of stopping medication taken for an existing mental health problem. There is also an increased risk of postpartum psychosis.

Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health problems during pregnancy, with around 12% of women experiencing depression and 13% experiencing anxiety at some point; many women will experience both. Depression and anxiety also affect 15‑20% of women in the first year after childbirth. During pregnancy and the postnatal period, anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive‑compulsive disorder (OCD), post‑traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and tokophobia (an extreme fear of childbirth), can occur on their own or can coexist with depression. Psychosis can re‑emerge or be exacerbated during pregnancy and the postnatal period. Postpartum psychosis affects between 1 and 2 in 1000 women who have given birth. Women with bipolar I disorder are at particular risk, but postpartum psychosis can occur in women with no previous psychiatric history.

Changes to body shape, including weight gain, in pregnancy and after childbirth may be a concern for women with an eating disorder. Although the prevalence of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa is lower in pregnant women, the prevalence of binge eating disorder is higher. Smoking and the use of illicit drugs and alcohol in pregnancy are common, and prematurity, intrauterine growth restriction and fetal compromise are more common in women who use these substances, particularly women who smoke.

Between 2006 and 2008 there were 1.27 maternal deaths per 100,000 maternal deliveries in the UK as a result of mental health problems. Although response to treatment for mental health problems is good, these problems frequently go unrecognised and untreated in pregnancy and the postnatal period. If untreated, women can continue to have symptoms, sometimes for many years, and these can also affect their babies and other family members.

This guideline makes recommendations for the recognition, assessment, care and treatment of mental health problems in women during pregnancy and the postnatal period (up to 1 year after childbirth) and in women who are planning a pregnancy. The guideline covers depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, drug and alcohol‑use disorders and severe mental illness (such as psychosis, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and severe depression). It covers subthreshold symptoms as well as mild, moderate and severe mental health problems. However, the guideline focuses on aspects of expression, risks and management that are of special relevance in pregnancy and the postnatal period.

The recommendations are relevant to all healthcare professionals who recognise, assess and refer for or provide interventions for mental health problems in pregnancy and the postnatal period. It will also be relevant to non‑NHS services, such as social services and the voluntary and private sectors, but does not make specific recommendations for these. The guideline also makes recommendations about the primary and secondary care services needed to support the effective identification and treatment of most mental health problems in pregnancy and the postnatal period. This guideline should be read in conjunction with other NICE guidelines on the treatment and management of specific mental health problems. The guideline indicates where modifications to treatment and management are needed in pregnancy and the postnatal period.

The guideline draws on the best available evidence. However, there are significant limitations to the evidence base, including limited data on the risks of psychotropic medication in pregnancy and during breastfeeding.

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