Royal College of Midwives calls for more perinatal mental health support

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has warned that vital perinatal mental health support is on the precipice, as it launched a new ‘roadmap’ to ensure women receive the support they need and to improve perinatal mental health care.

According to the roadmap, one in five women will experience mental health issues during pregnancy and up to a year after birth, ranging from anxiety and depression to more significant illness. Furthermore, suicide remains one of the leading causes of death in new mothers up to the first year after giving birth.

pregnant holding her tummy

The RCM said that despite this, mental health needs remained secondary to the physical health needs of women during pregnancy in the NHS.

Birte Harlev-Lam, executive director at the RCM, said: ‘Quite simply midwives need time to care and there needs to be more midwives to share the workload. We are not asking for the moon; we estimate that fewer than 350 additional specialist perinatal mental health midwives could bring about the results that we all want to see – and that women deserve.

‘Mental ill-health ranks with physical factors as one of the leading causes of maternal deaths in the UK, and yet this is not reflected in the resources allocated to it, whether in terms of staffing or other support. We urge the government to support the provisions around perinatal mental health and counselling recommended in the recent independent pregnancy loss review.’

The roadmap highlights how very few of the women who died as a result of poor perinatal mental health received a formal mental health diagnosis despite reported symptoms. The RCM said that when mental ill-health remains undiagnosed and untreated, not only is there an emotional impact on women and families but also a financial burden to the state amounting to roughly an additional £8.1bn each year. Investing in perinatal mental health and training more midwives now would cost a fraction of that.

Among the key changes the RCM is calling for to improve perinatal mental health care in the UK are:

  • All professionals working with women in the perinatal period have the necessary knowledge and understanding of perinatal mental health
  • Every maternity service has a minimum whole-time equivalent Band seven perinatal specialist midwife
  • All maternity professionals should be equally concerned with mental as well as physical health in pregnancy, childbirth, and postnatal period

The RCM also called for a comprehensive review of midwifery training through a perinatal mental health lens, and for all maternity services to have at least one midwife who specialises in perinatal mental health

Image: Anna Civolani

More on this topic:

Risk of premature birth higher among mothers with poor mental health – study

Black women ‘five times more likely’ to die in pregnancy


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