HAVING a baby is expected to be one of the happiest times in a woman’s life. And that is the case for many women.

However, about 10 per cent of women develop post-natal depression and in a few cases women go on to develop a much more serious condition called post-natal psychosis.

This week (April 30 to May 6) is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week and a company called Mum’s Enterprise Ltd – set up by a woman after being on maternity leave and trying to promote gender equality - is launching a report called From Career Women to Working Mum.

The report draws on the insights of over 1,000 mums across the UK and it explores what mothers desire to feel fulfilled and happy in their working lives, post-children. The findings claim that as many as 25 per cent of women remain undiagnosed with post-natal depression.

Dr David Lewis, acting Medical Director for Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust: “Although most pregnancies are uncomplicated by psychiatric conditions, unfortunately it is not a time of happiness for everybody.

“Psychological and emotional difficulties and illnesses are common after childbirth and also during pregnancy. The majority of these difficulties resolve quickly e.g. 50 to 80 per cent of women experience ‘baby blues’ (mild mood changes) at around three to five days after delivery.

“Some women then go on to develop post-natal depression, which often starts around three months after they have given birth. This happens to about 10 per cent of women.”

A more serious condition called post-natal psychosis may develop which often (in one or two women for every 1,000 deliveries) requires a hospital admission. This is a serious illness which is an emergency.

He added: “There are some women who we know have a higher risk of developing the condition and we offer screening clinics at the antenatal clinic to help us identify women who may be of increased risk. We can help them manage that risk and support them during pregnancy and after delivery.

“We have community psychiatric nurses, two psychiatrists, a social worker, a psychotherapist and administrative staff in our Perinatal Community Mental Health team. Sometimes student nurses, medical students and student social workers will work with us.

“The team sees women who are either pregnant or up to nine months postnatal and have been suffering from mental health problems as a direct result of the current or a previous pregnancy. We take referrals from all over Worcestershire.”

The health and care trust staff also aim to provide support for the patient’s relatives and friends, where appropriate.

In the more serious cases of post-natal psychosis, the woman can develop a range of symptoms which include:

• Hallucinations

• Delusions - thoughts or beliefs that are unlikely to be true

• A manic mood – talking and thinking too much or too quickly, feeling “high” or “on top of the world”

• A low mood – showing signs of depression, being withdrawn or tearful, lacking energy, having a loss of appetite, anxiety or trouble sleeping

• Loss of inhibitions

• Feeling suspicious or fearful

• Restlessness

• Feeling very confused

• Behaving in a way that’s out of character

Most women need to be treated in hospital. Ideally, this would be with their baby in a specialist psychiatric unit called a mother and baby unit (MBU). But they may be admitted to a general psychiatric ward until an MBU is available.

Women with post-natal psychosis may be prescribed antidepressants; antipsychotics to help with manic and psychotic symptoms like the delusions or hallucinations; and or mood stabilisers.

When a patient progresses with their recovery, they may be referred by their GP to a therapist for cognitive behavioural therapy, or in very rare cases electroconvulsive therapy.

Most women with postpartum psychosis make a full recovery as long as they receive the right treatment.

The medical profession is not sure what causes post-natal psychosis but women may be more at risk if they have a family history of mental illness; are already diagnosed with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia; have a traumatic pregnancy or birth of have developed the condition after a previous pregnancy.

• On the issue of the wider implications for women having babies, the Mum’s Enterprise Ltd report findings delve into the lives of mums specifically to find out what women want. They explore the reality of what women are faced with when returning to work and show that 24 per cent of women have had flexible work request denied at work despite their legal right to request them.

• It also looks at the home lives of mums exploring whether equality is reflected in in personal partnerships as well as fears and coping mechanisms.

Lindsey Fish, founder and chief executive officer of Mum’s Enterprise said: “Flexible work, gender equality, the gender pay gap and the mum economy are making headlines almost every day. How can we make changes in our lives for our own happiness?

“The impact and challenge of change is real for every mum, personally and professionally, so we wanted to uncover the truth about how women adapt to this.

“Almost a third of working women are just putting on a brave face to the world every single day and don’t have a genuine coping or offloading mechanism. This does not bode well for mental health issues further down the line.

“It’s something we need to address now and we hope that this report will go a long way towards driving this change.”