Supporting new mothers’ mental health is as important as their physical well-being

During pregnancy, so many thoughts and worries race through an expectant mother’s mind and that of her family. Getting ready for a new change to their lives as well as learning how to take care of a new born child can take its toll.

1 in 10 women will experience mental health problems during pregnancy and the experience can be debilitating and frightening and can have a damaging impact on mum, baby and the wider family.

That’s why I was so pleased to be invited to a meeting about perinatal mental health by Sally Hogg, an enthusiastic and determined member of the East Surrey chapter of the NCT, the UK’s largest charity for parents.

At this event in Oxted, we discussed a report Sally had compiled on perinatal mental health in East Surrey – the availability of mental health services for new mums, the stigma attached to admitting to needing help and where services need to develop across East Surrey.

Some of the stats from her survey make for quite staggering reading:

  • Suicide is the leading cause of maternal death in the UK (up to a year after the birth, according to a study by MBRACE-UK)
  • Only 9% of mums say they received good mental advice during their pregnancy.
  • Only 38% of GPs asked about mental health at their 6-week check-ups.
  • 28% of women that asked for mental health support actually received it.

There were three very brave mums who shared their own experiences with us and it really struck me just how much they have had to deal with – having panic attacks, intrusive thoughts about harm coming to their baby and struggling to connect emotionally with their child were just some what they’ve had to deal with.

They spoke of not quite knowing who to turn to for help and feeling as though they should be able to cope themselves, that there was a stigma attached to women struggling with their mental health during their pregnancy and beyond. The vision of pregnancy being easy, of breastfeeding being simple were just not their reality, adding to the strain placed on them mentally.

Hearing their testimony prompted a really healthy discussion about the services available in East Surrey and what more should be done to help women who feel trapped and in need of help. We heard from the directors and managers of health services across the constituency that are working to raise the profile of perinatal mental health for mums as well as dads. A cohesive and mutually-supportive family unit can only help both parents navigate the journey of having a baby.

The good news is things are improving across East Surrey and the need for perinatal mental health support is being acknowledged. New developments include:

  • A new specialist perinatal mental health community team to be deployed at hospitals and GP clinics.
  • A Maple team with specialist Mental Health midwife.
  • Improvements in Oxted GP 6-week check for new mums.
  • Joint working between children’s centre and GPs in Caterham.

That said, there is still more work to do and off the back of this meeting, we hope to be able to arrange a working group where we can develop ways to better link the different services across the constituency so that new and expectant mothers and their families know where to go if they need help.

Mental health matters to you, it matters to me and it matters to this government and that is why we are seeing new investment in mental health services for young people and, more recently, perinatal mental health. There is more to come on this topic, so watch this space.

If anyone reading this thinks they need mental health support or feel overwhelmed then please do let your GP or health visitor know when you next see them and they will know how best to help.

On a last note, I want to thank everyone for taking part in this discussion and to the brave mums who shared their stories with us.