More than half of women (59%) admit to feeling down or depressed after giving birth, yet only a quarter sought help from their midwife or another member of the maternity team, a survey has revealed.
The survey carried out on parenting website Netmums, in collaboration with the Royal College of Midwives, also asked mums if the maternity team discussed with them about how they were coping during their postnatal visits. A quarter said that they had not been asked.
A separate survey of midwives carried out by the RCM for its report, Pressure Points, found that nearly two-thirds (60%) said the main focus of postnatal care should be on emotional support.
Midwives are concerned about the amount of time and resources they are able to offer women. Just over a third (40%) of midwives said that they had enough time and resources to support and inform women about emotional wellbeing. In addition, 40.6% said it was quite or very difficult to refer women to the appropriate health professional if they had concerns about maternal mental health.
Meanwhile, a survey of student midwives also carried out for the report raised concerns about whether their training is helping them to deal effectively with postnatal maternal mental health issues. When asked if they had been taught enough theoretical knowledge on this 24.1% said no. A similar number (29%) also said no when asked if they felt confident to recognise emotional wellness or mental health issues in postnatal women. The report recommends a review of midwifery training to ensure that they are equipped with the knowledge and skills to deal with these issues.
Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM, said: “The quality of postnatal care that women receive appears to be a lottery. We have serious, longstanding concerns about the levels of care for women with mental health problems. It is clear this is a high priority for maternity staff and it is clear they want to deliver a high quality service. However, they are often prevented by doing this either by the system itself or a simple lack of resources.
“The RCM is worried that postnatal care is suffering and women are getting a poorer service because of the continuing shortage of midwives in England. Midwives are often moved from this crucial area to cover shortages in other areas particularly on labour wards. This means that midwives often do not have enough time when they visit women to spot the signs and support women with problems such as postnatal depression.
“We are calling on the NHS organisations responsible for maternity services to respond to our recommendations and to implement them.”
Sally Russell, co-founder of Netmums, said: “While there is a strong focus on a women’s physical heath after giving birth, there is an urgent need for more support for new mums’ mental health.
“With over half the new mums in the UK suffering baby blues, we are in danger of letting vulnerable mothers slip through the net and suffer serious mental illness. Post-natal depression and anxiety is a condition which can devastate the whole family, not just the new mum. But many women who are struggling often blame themselves for ‘not coping’, and so don’t necessarily know their midwife can help.
“As the RCM report shows, it’s vital we train more midwives to help vulnerable women at this crucial time. Every mum deserves to be treated with compassion and have the chance to talk about their mental health as well as their physical health.”