What is Perinatal and Infant Mental Health?

Perinatal mental health and infant mental health are in some respects like two sides of the same coin. They are terms that can be defined separately, but they are also quite interdependent. Both parents and their children exist within the overall context of the family, with the mental health of parents influencing their infant (or children) and vice versa.

Perinatal Mental Health

Perinatal mental health refers to the emotional and psychological wellbeing of a parent around the time of conception through to 12 months after a baby is born (the perinatal period). There are a number of things communities can be aware of to support good mental health in the perinatal period and the health promotion section has some useful resources and contacts.

The baby blues refers to women feeling teary, sad or irritable in the early days after giving birth (usually 7-10 days). New mothers experiencing the baby blues is common (up to 80% of mothers) and usually just lasts a couple of days. If you are still feeling down after two weeks, talking to your child health nurse of other professional is a good idea. There are a number of mental health disorders that are unique to the perinatal period in which parents may need to seek professional help. 

Mental health disorders that may be experienced during the perinatal period include:

  • Depression – antenatal and/or postnatal (up to 1 in 7 mothers and around 1 in 10 fathers)
  • Anxiety disorders – antenatal and/or postnatal (thought to be more common than depression and can occur on its own or co-occur with depression for either parent)
  • Postpartum psychosis is a psychiatric emergency– requires immediate medical attention (rare, 1-2 in 1000 mothers)

Serious mental illness (SMI) includes those disorders causing significant acute or chronic impairment including but not limited to schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder, and schizoaffective disorder. 

In the perinatal period, women with SMI have unique needs. These may include:

  • increased risk of psychiatric relapse during pregnancy and after the birth of the baby
  • need for specialist monitoring of prescribed medications during pregnancy 
  • greater risk of pregnancy and birth complications
  • increased need for support around parenting

Infant Mental Health

Infant mental health refers to the capacity of children from birth to age four to develop in such a way that they can experience, express and gradually learn to regulate their own emotions, form close and secure interpersonal relationships, and be open to exploring the environment and to learning.

Issues that may affect infants and young children can be associated with:

  • Attachment, parent-child interactions and relationships with others
  • Development and learning
  • Behaviour and emotional regulation
  • Sleep and feeding patterns

For more information

For further information, resources and links, visit our Statewide Perinatal and Infant Mental Health Professional Toolbox or sign up for our SPIMHP training.