More than 57,000 new and expectant mums have received specialist support for mental health problems over the last year, up a third on 2022, NHS figures show.

Every part of England now has a specialist mental health team thanks to the NHS Long Term Plan with experts offering women with moderate to severe or complex mental health needs support, including on how to develop the relationship between parent and baby.

All new mums are also offered a comprehensive mental and physical check-up within six weeks of giving birth from their GP.

For those women who need further specialist support, their family doctor, obstetrician, midwife or health visitor can refer them to one of almost 40 Maternal Mental Health Services established across England with staff including psychologists, and midwives, who are able to help with range of issues including post-traumatic stress disorder following birth trauma, perinatal loss or those with a severe fear of childbirth.

The services also provide support and advice for women with mental health needs who want to get pregnant.

More than 57,000 women have received support from the clinics over the last year according to the latest statistics, up from 43,053 two years ago. [57,170 received support between March 2023 – February 2024, and 43,053 women received support between March 2022 and February 2023].

Around 600,000 women give birth in England every year and research shows perinatal mental illness affects up to one in five new and expectant mums and covers a wide range of conditions.

If left untreated, mental health issues can have a long-lasting impact on the woman, child, and the wider family.

England’s most senior mental health nurse is encouraging new or expectant mums who are struggling with their mental health to come forward for support.

Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s National Mental Health Director said: “Becoming a new mum is an incredibly special moment, but it can also be a very stressful and overwhelming experience, and the NHS wants to make sure that those suffering with any mental health difficulty such as post-traumatic stress or severe depression get the support they need.

“Our specialist teams across the country are highly trained and have many effective approaches to successful treatment, so if you are pregnant or have given birth in the last two years and are struggling with your mental health then please do not hesitate to ask your GP for support, the NHS is here to help.”

Perinatal mental health problems are usually defined are those which occur during pregnancy or in the first year following the birth of a child.

The NHS Long Term Plan extends this definition to the first 2 years, in line with the cross-government ambition for parents and children focusing on the 1,001 critical days of a child’s life.

Health Minister, Maria Caulfield said: “Pregnancy and motherhood can be a challenging time so it’s brilliant to see new and expectant mothers accessing tailored mental health services. We are committed to ensuring these services are available to every new mother who needs them, no matter where they live in England.

“The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan is growing the number of NHS staff working in mental health, primary and community care, ensuring specialist services like these continue to be available. The Government has also significantly increased spending on mental health to support these ambitions.”

Megan Rutter, 26, who was supported by the Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service said: “I was significantly unwell with my mental health after the birth of my baby. I received exemplary care from the Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service which allowed me to make long- standing changes.

“Following my discharge, I felt passionate about supporting others going through similar experiences. I completed the recognised training to use my lived experience to support other mums to feel seen and heard under the perinatal service. I am now working as a Peer Support Worker, creating connections based on a shared experience and inspiring hope through recovery.

“Talking to someone with lived experience is particularly helpful for women accessing the service. They know we have been in their shoes, and they can see in us that it is possible to get better.”

Madeline Warwick, Specialist Occupational Therapist from Northamptonshire Healthcare Foundation Trust said: “NHFT’s Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service has been supporting women experiencing moderate to severe mental health conditions through pregnancy and childbirth for over five years, treating around 900 women every year. Women often ask us, ‘How do I know whether my symptoms are a normal part of pregnancy or becoming a new mum or whether they are something more significant?’

“Recognising the symptoms of a mental health condition is the starting point. If you or someone close to you is struggling with their mental health during pregnancy or after childbirth, please talk to your GP, Midwife or Health Visitor and they will provide advice and support, including a referral to the Specialist Perinatal Mental Health team if required. 83% of women who have accessed the Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service said that they experienced a significant improvement in their mental health, and this is likely to mean better mental health outcomes for both mum and the new baby as they grow up.”

Kate Brintworth, chief midwifery officer for England, said: “To help ensure women are well supported during their transition to becoming a parent, they should be offered personalised care during and after pregnancy that takes account of not only their physical health and choices, but importantly their mental health too.

“That is why I am so pleased that every local health system now has a specialist community perinatal mental health team, and we are continuing to increase access. In the most recent CQC maternity survey for 2023 more women than ever before were positive about mental health support – with almost all saying a midwife or health visitor asked them about their mental health during postnatal care at home.”

The NHS published further guidance for GPs on these check-ups in December.

The guidance, written together with the RCGP, asks family doctors to provide personalised postnatal care for their physical and mental health, covering topics such as mental health, physical recovery, pelvic health, breastfeeding and support with family planning.

The routine check is an opportunity for GPs to ask women about their mental health and wellbeing, as well as physical recovery, post-birth. It means any woman needing extra mental health support can be referred to primary care mental health support including Talking Therapies or to a specialist perinatal mental health team, if appropriate.

As part of the £2.3bn investment in mental health identified in the NHS Long Term Plan, additional investment is supporting further service developments for perinatal mental health.

The plan includes increasing the availability of specialist perinatal community care for women up to 24 months after birth, improving access to evidence-based psychological therapies for women and their families, and offering mental health checks for partners of those accessing specialist PMH community services and signposting to support as required.

Dr Ranee Thakar, President of the Royal of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said: “We welcome the progress towards ensuring that women can access high-quality, specialist perinatal mental health services throughout and after their pregnancy.

“The RCOG was pleased to be involved in the development of NHS England’s guidance on delivery of GP postnatal checks – supporting every woman to have a conversation that focuses on their own health and wellbeing. It is crucial there continues to be a focus on ensuring equitable access to mental health support for all, so that signs of poor mental health are picked up early, and women can access the care and support they need.”

A spokesperson for the Royal College of Midwives said: “Perinatal mental illness impacts many new and expectant mothers, and it is encouraging that more women than ever are accessing perinatal mental health services. Despite this progress there is still more work to do. As outlined in our perinatal mental health roadmap, it is vital we remain focused on recruiting and retaining our midwifery workforce, so services can support ever-increasing demand.”

Source: NHS / Public Health England

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