Maternal Mental Health Disorders (MMHDs) are the most common pregnancy complications and impact, on average, up to one in five expecting and postpartum mothers in the US.
Though postpartum depression is the most commonly known MMHD, there are a range of disorders, including anxiety, OCD, and psychosis. The onset of these disorders occurs before pregnancy, during pregnancy, and in the postpartum period. These disorders disproportionately affect mothers of color. For example, Black women are at a greater risk of experiencing postpartum depression and are less likely to receive care, compared to white women. Black women also experience greater barriers to accessing mental health care, due to social inequality and structural racism. Because of the high prevalence of MMHDs and their life-long impact on women, children, families, and society, it is vital to understand contributing factors to reduce the incidence effectively. This includes the role of family planning and affordable access to reproductive health care.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), reproductive health is "a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes." WHO expands this definition stating that reproductive health requires the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide whether to reproduce, when to, and how often.
This brief outlines the available research regarding the relationships between the ability to decide when and how often to have children and maternal mental health. Key definitions, the latest research, emerging reproductive health measures, and policy considerations surrounding family planning, family planning counseling, birth control, and abortion are presented.