New and expectant mums face increased mental health risks caused by the pandemic

During and after pregnancy, women have faced greater likelihood of poor mental health during the pandemic, including anxiety, depression, loneliness and suicidal thoughts, according to a new report commissioned by a coalition of leading maternal mental health organisations. 

New report raises concerns as services supporting women and babies come under strain.

The rapid review of evidence commissioned by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA), and conducted by Centre for Mental Health, for the first time compiles all available evidence into one place. This shows that access to crucial services reduced for pregnant women, new mums and babies across the UK, especially during the early stages of the pandemic. While health and care staff worked hard to deliver safe care, significant gaps emerged. Women also experienced a reduction in informal support from friends, relatives and networks of other women sharing their experiences. Extra pressures include anxiety about giving birth during lockdown without partners present, fears of losing jobs, heightened levels of domestic violence, bereavement, worries about catching Covid-19, and concern about new infants catching the disease. Read more … [link to the following – 

The MMHA, a network of over 100 national organisations, together with lived experience champions and clinicians, is calling on Ministers to fill the pre-Covid gaps in specialist perinatal mental health. In addition, the wider system surrounding these services, including health visiting and maternity, needs to be protected and enhanced. Furthermore, up-to-date monitoring and research of maternal mental healthcare should be commissioned. It also says that without sustained funding, many Voluntary and Community Services will not survive, despite the increased demand from women for their services. 

This report must be a call to action for all of those concerned with the wellbeing and mental health of women and their babies. It confirms that the pandemic risks casting a long shadow on maternal mental health, and that the impact has been greatest for those already facing increased risks, such as those from more disadvantaged backgrounds. It is essential that maternal mental health support, including early intervention, is available for women and that we work to reduce stigma as we continue to face the effects of the pandemic and beyond.

As the review acknowledges the national lockdown has limited opportunities to identify child development concerns and to support parents struggling at a time of increased need. The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on babies brought into the world at a time when 60% of parents have reported serious concerns about their mental health. Fathers have been routinely excluded from perinatal services. Many elements of the Healthy Child Programme were paused when families needed it most, creating a backlog of missed check-ups and support that have not been addressed by catch-up funding. In addition to the long-term reform set out in this review, urgent government action must be taken to include parents and babies in the nation’s recovery from the pandemic. 

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