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Maternal Mental Health

Becoming a new parent is a time for joy and happiness, filled with memories to be treasured. However, for many people the prenatal period is often filled with pain, discomfort and 'baby blues'.... but are we overlooking a more worrying problem when it comes to mental health?

Maternal mental health is not spoken about enough, yet it affects many women across the world every year. Let's look at some facts and statistics surrounding maternal mental health:

Worldwide, approximately 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have just given birth, experience a mental health disorder (primarily depression). Affected mothers often find it increasingly difficult to function properly, which may have an effect on the growth and development of their child. A recent meta-analysis found that 20% of mothers in developing countries experience clinical depression after giving birth. Depression can cause large amounts of suffering and disability, which can lead to a reduced response to the child's needs. 

Maternal Mental Health problems can happen to any woman during or after pregnancy, however, there are some factors which may contribute:

- Poverty
- Migration 
- Stress
- Exposure to violence
- Low levels of social support

A survey involving 2300 women, found that 38% of women waited for over four weeks to be referred to a specialist with some women waiting for up to one year. It also found that there is poor awareness among women and healthcare professionals about the range of mental health conditions and the services that are available. Here are some of the other findings that came from this survey:

 

 

 

Images are taken from RCOG.org

Worldwide maternal mental health problems are considered as a 'major public health challenge', with 1 in 5 women developing mental health problems during or after pregnancy and around 25% of maternal deaths between 6 weeks and 1 year after giving birth being a result of poor mental health. Almost half of women in the UK do not have access to specialist mental health services during pregnancy or after giving birth to their babies. 

Despite a large number of women developing maternal mental health problems, it is clear that midwives want to offer help and support, but they are restricted by their current workload and therefore are incapable of delivering steady and continuous care when it comes to the mental health of new mothers. Yet there is evidence to say that early intervention and support can have a positive impact on new mothers and may prevent the development of mental health problems.

However, recently we have heard that there is a shortage of midwives and maternity services are being severely stretched, resulting in minimal amounts of care and support is available to mothers. This means that appointments are often rushed, and new mothers feel as though they are unable to discuss their mental health with the midwife as they appear to be 'too busy' 

Women should be receiving much better levels of support and early intervention, reducing the impact which postnatal depression can have. There needs to be a provision of joined-up care, bringing focus to the emotional well-being and maternal mental health of new mothers.

But what about men? 

One of my lovely followers, Allistair (Go and follow him on Twitter here!), kindly asked me to speak about fathers, as they too can suffer: 

Despite this articles main focus being on new mothers and maternal mental health. It is important that we also take time to acknowledge the fact that men can also suffer from paternal mental health problems such as postnatal depression. This again is not spoken about enough. It is estimated that 1 in 10 dads experience postnatal depression, and fathers appear to be more likely to develop depression 3-6 months after their baby is born. 

There are two main factors which appear to have a significant impact on dads who experience postnatal depression. There are:

  • Strain within their relationship with their partner - Dads are more likely to develop postnatal or antenatal depression if their relationship has been strained throughout the pregnancy.
  • If their partner is experiencing antenatal or postnatal depression, they too may be more at risk of developing it for themselves. 

Other factors include the age of the parents (with younger dads experiencing higher levels of anxiety and depression) and finance (with fathers on a lower income being more at risk of suffering from a mental health problem during pregnancy or after their partner gives birth). 

Signs and Symptoms (men and women)

  • Feeling low and thinking that there is no hope. 
  • Feeling tired and lethargic.
  • Feeling inadequate or unable to cope. 
  • Being unusually irritable. 
  • Wanting to cry or crying a lot (maybe even constantly)
  • Loss of appetite, this could also mean feeling hungry but being unable to eat. 
  • Being hostile towards their partner and/or their baby. 
  • Having panic attacks which can happen at any time. 
  • Having overpowering anxiety, which may stop them from leaving their house. 
  • Having obsessive fears about their baby's health. 
  • Having thoughts about harming themselves, or possibly their child. 

If you think you may be suffering from antenatal or postnatal depression and/or any other mental health condition, please speak to your midwife or a GP. They will listen, they will guide you in the right direction and help you to get back on your feet. There are also many online communities offering support and helplines such as The Samaritans, who are there to talk to you 24/7. 

Resources: 

RCM.org - Maternal Mental Health

World Health Organisation

RCOG.org.uk - Maternal Mental Health - Woman's voice. 

Maternal Mental Health Alliance

NCT.org - Postnatal Depression in Fathers.