Young mumPregnant women and new mothers need more expert psychological support across maternity services and mental health settings such as community perinatal teams and inpatient mother and baby units, according to a new briefing. 

The briefing, by the British Psychological Society’s Faculty of Perinatal Psychology, recommends that a medium-sized maternity hospital with 3,000 deliveries a year should have the full-time services of a clinical psychologist and the services of a consultant psychologist three days a week.

One in 5 women experience a mental health problem during pregnancy or in the year after childbirth and women often have a clear preference for psychological support for mental health problems over, or alongside, more medicalised interventions such as medication.

The briefing comes after ‘The Five-Year Forward View for Mental Health’, published in February by the Independent Mental Health Taskforce to the NHS in England, found that mental health problems not only affect the health of mothers but can also have long-term effects on children’s emotional, social and cognitive development. 

The £8.1 billion annual cost of perinatal mental ill health in the UK equates to almost £10,000 per birth. Yet the taskforce found that fewer than 15% of localities in England provide effective specialist community perinatal services for women with severe or complex conditions. More than 40% provide no service at all. Maps highlighting the gaps in provision have been published by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance as part of their #everyonesbusiness campaign.

The paper sets out the differences that clinical perinatal psychologists can make to pregnant women, new mothers and their infants. It also shows the benefits perinatal clinical psychology can provide by delivering clinically effective and cost effective services. These include cost savings, improved psychological and physical health outcomes, and improved satisfaction with care. 

Helping women in pregnancy and in the postnatal period to have the best possible mental health allows us to build healthier families and through this to improve the health of society as a whole. 

Professor Peter Kinderman, president of the British Psychological Society, said: “The Independent Mental Health Taskforce identified the need for an extra £1 billion of spending by 2020-21. This new briefing paper shows that poor perinatal mental health is a widespread and expensive problem and that perinatal psychologists have the specialist skills to help in ways new mothers appreciate, transforming lives at this very important time for families.”