NSPCC warns new mothers are slipping through the cracks

Warwickshire specialist health visitor, Eileen O’Sullivan.

On Maternal Mental Health Awareness Day, the NSPCC are warning of the risks that the Coronavirus pandemic is presenting for new and expectant parents who are slipping through the cracks.

The charity brought together health visitors, a midwife and a psychiatrist from a specialist perinatal care team for a unique virtual roundtable. The professionals were also joined by Dr Alain Gregoire, Chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance.

The experts revealed their services have rapidly adapted to support parents digitally, while sharing concerns about the immediate effect on new mother’s mental health, as well as the potential long-term impact on babies’ health and development. Eileen O’Sullivan, a specialist health visitor in Warwickshire said:
“Supporting mothers digitally can be challenging and there is a concern that some may be suffering in silence, too scared to share how they are really feeling over video. I am also seeing that my colleagues are being extra vigilant because we don’t want to miss anything.”

Before the pandemic, up to 20% of mums and 10% of dads experienced perinatal mental health problems, but there are concerns that the uncertainty of the Coronavirus and social isolation is putting more pressure on parents while reducing their access to support. From the first to the third week of lockdown the number of adults that contacted the NSPCC helpline about parental mental health increased by just over a quarter. 

Echoed by the panel, the NSPCC is calling for the government to make sure all new parents receive the support they need at every stage – from the first check-up through to specialist help if needed. The charity says that understanding and addressing the impact of Coronavirus on the mental health of babies and new parents will require government to listen to families and work with experts to ensure no family goes without the support they need.

According to the Institute of Health Visiting, in some areas of England at least 50% of highly skilled health visitors including some from perinatal mental health and parent-infant teams that would normally support parents and safeguard babies were redeployed into other health services in the initial period of the lockdown. Natalie, a mother from Nottinghamshire told the NSPCC:
“I went through postnatal depression when I had my children and it made me feel stressed, hyper, paranoid and frightened. I thought I was alone and I didn’t want anyone to know that I wasn’t really holding it together.

“This can be such a lonely experience at the best times for a new mum, so it must be incredibly frightening for parents going through it in the midst of this crisis. It can be hard to tell someone you’re struggling which is why it is so important that parents have access to support services. This means vulnerable mothers can be signposted on to the help they will so desperately need.”

The NSPCC is highlighting the importance of families being provided with consistent care now. It is also urging the Government to think about the support provided to parents as we come out of lockdown and to come up with a plan to rebuild health visiting and perinatal services after the crisis, so all new parents receive the support they need at every stage. Andrew Fellowes, Public Affairs Manager at the NSPCC, aded:

“Families across the UK are facing unprecedented pressure as they attempt to cope with the impact of COVID-19, with pregnant women and new parents having to manage one of life’s biggest changes in the middle of a national health crisis.

“At the NSPCC we know that if undetected and untreated, perinatal mental health problems can have a devastating impact on women, partners and babies, both immediately but also long after the COVID-19 situation has passed.

“It is imperative that families continue to have access to services during the lockdown so that mental health problems can be identified and specialist support provided if needed.”

The NSPCC is inviting people to join the thousands who have already raised their voice and signed the Fight for a Fair Start petition.
The NSPCC’s Fight for a Fair Start campaign has been supported by Jo Malone London which also fund direct services to new and prospective parents, focusing on supporting parents with their mental health problems to help them develop secure and healthy relationships with their children.


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