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

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

During and after pregnancy, women have faced a 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.

According to the research, women of colour and women from poorer economic backgrounds are more likely to experience mental health problems during and after pregnancy.

The rapid review of evidence commissioned by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA), and conducted by the 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.

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 many Voluntary and Community Services will not survive without sustained funding, despite the increased demand from women for their services.

Luciana Berger, chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA), said:

“Today’s report should serve as an ear-splitting warning siren about the dangers to women’s maternal mental health and potential risks to the wellbeing of their babies. The pandemic has placed additional challenges on new and expectant mums getting the care and support they need, taking many already-stretched services to the point of breaking. Women of colour and women from disadvantaged backgrounds have been particularly impacted, and Ministers must address this injustice with urgency.”

Sarah Hughes, chief executive of Centre for Mental Health, which carried out the research, said:

“The Covid-19 pandemic has been a mental health challenge across society, but it has not affected everyone equally. It has placed especial pressure on women during pregnancy and after they’ve given birth. And it has made inequalities that were always there in plain sight even more pronounced. We need to take this opportunity to review and reframe what support women should expect for their mental health during the perinatal period and to make sure that we prepare for any future crisis to avoid another loss of support at a crucial time in people’s lives.”

Today’s report Maternal mental health during a pandemic was commissioned by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, conducted by the Centre for Mental Health, and funded by Comic Relief. Evidence from all four parts of the UK was reviewed.

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