Maternal mental health: What support is available?

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Following research from LSE and the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, we chatted with pregnancy and postpartum psychotherapist, Sophie Harris, to learn more about the support available for new and expectant mums

Maternal mental health: What support is available?

Research conducted last year by the London School of Economics and Political Science, commissioned by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, revealed the devastating impact that perinatal mental health problems have on women and their families when not effectively treated. What’s more, the former 2014 report calculated that perinatal mental illness costs the UK £8.1 billion annually.

Since 2014, the UK has invested in specialist services provided by the NHS to transform the lives of expectant women with complex mental health problems and their babies. As welcome as these findings may be, more action is now required to see that women and their families receive the quality of care that they need

Whilst improvements have been made, access to perinatal mental health services is still a challenge. The report highlights the long waiting lists for mental health services, including those provided through the NHS Talking Therapies programme (previously known as 'Improving Access to Psychological Therapies' or IAPT). Not only this, but many of the services are unable to meet pregnancy and parenting-specific needs. This means some women don’t accept referrals, miss appointments or are dissatisfied with their treatment.

With more maternal mental health problems being identified as a result of the pandemic, now has never been a more important time to ensure services can respond to increasing demands and are fit for purpose.

The outcomes from the LSE report propose a better integration of perinatal health services, such as maternity and health visiting, with primary mental health services. The collaborative efforts will help address maternal wellbeing and support the early developmental needs of children. This, coupled with identifying women in need and facilitating access to treatment, will have a clinically cost-effective role in society.

We chatted to pregnancy and postpartum cognitive behavioural therapist, Sophie Harris to find out more.

Do you find the findings from the 2014 report surprising?

“Absolutely not,” Sophie says. “Not only are the impacts of maternal mental health difficulties felt by the mother, but also of their child, and potentially even their children. At the moment, there are a lot of unsupported mothers who are struggling. Unfortunately, our children feel our stress. Untreated mental health conditions will have a huge social, emotional and financial impact both on the needs of the mother and child and wider society.”

Do you welcome this research?

“Yes. I believe that any research that highlights the need for maternal mental health support is positive. However, it requires significant action for the impact of these findings to be shown in the outcomes of care for our mothers who are struggling.

“There appears to be a large-scale underestimation of the mental health needs of new mums. For example, the NHS website states that one

Cost of living: the impact on children’s physical and mental health

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With almost one-quarter of parents of children under the age of 11 claiming that the cost of living has had a detrimental effect on their mental health, we take a further look and highlight some available support

Cost of living: the impact on children’s physical and mental health

Findings from a recent Save the Children/YouGov survey, covered by iNews show how rising living costs are impacting children in the UK physically and mentally. Nearly one-quarter (24%) of the parents surveyed say they are worried about their children’s mental health and one-fifth (17%) of those parents claim their children are suffering from physical health problems. Children living in households with an income of £30,000 or less are the worst affected, with 37% of parents saying their children’s mental health has been affected.

The online survey of 2,008 parents of children aged 11 and under highlighted some of the concerns parents are coming up against due to increased financial pressures. To cut back, parents are finding it difficult to keep up with days out and after-school clubs. And soaring household bills mean parents are buying cheaper food options with less variety. It also means families are living in colder, poorer conditions. This is negatively impacting the overall wellbeing of children; they are more likely to suffer from an increased number of colds and experience reduced sleep quality, for example.

The same survey revealed how parents are even turning down work or are being forced to cut working hours due to expensive childcare. Over half (54%) of mothers have cut their hours because they can’t afford to pay for childcare.

Becca Lyon, head of child poverty at Save the Children UK is calling on the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, to take action at tomorrow’s Spring Budget, urging the government to provide further support for struggling families.

“Parents are trying everything they can to put their children first, skipping their own meals, going without heating and their own essentials, but it’s clear families feel their young ones are suffering in such tough financial times.

“Jeremy Hunt should increase child-related benefits, alongside introducing childcare reforms that will support parents back into work.”

Are second pregnancies harder than the first?

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I’ve been pregnant before, so why am I finding it more challenging this time? Can I cope with doing it all again? And is it normal to feel anxious?

Are second pregnancies harder than the first?

Pregnancy can be an anxious time. According to Kings College of London, one in four pregnant women experience mental health issues, with anxiety and depression being the most common problems among those women surveyed. And it doesn’t necessarily matter if it’s your first, second or third child. Despite having gone through it before, you might find that things are a bit more difficult this time. Of course, it might not feel this way and you may be having a positive experience – all pregnancies are unique after all - but if you’re struggling, there is help out there.

When it comes to your second pregnancy, common symptoms like pregnancy fatigue can feel worse than they did the first time around, with many people finding this the most demanding part of expecting for the second time. Running around after your first child can mean you feel more tired and have less time to cherish those lovely moments with your unborn baby. But there are some things that can help you feel better.

What can I do to resolve pregnancy fatigue?

Eat well
Eating healthily will help you in so many different ways - the more nutrient dense your diet is, the better you will feel. Gut health pretty much affects the whole body - from your hormone health to your mental health. High-sugar snacks are so handy when you are busy with life, but they will only give you a temporary boost followed by a big energy belly-flop. The last thing you want is to feel even more exhausted. Keeping well-hydrated and eating nutrient-rich foods like vegetables, whole grains, and good sources of protein will help you maintain energy levels. There are certain foods to avoid during pregnancy so just be aware of that when raiding the fridge for a quick nutritious snack.

Find out more about how nutrition can boost energy levels and how working with a qualified nutritionist can be helpful.

Pregnancy yoga
If you’re on the lookout for some gentle ways to move your body, yoga postures can stabilise energy levels and help you feel calmer. There are oodles of benefits. Not only can yoga prepare those essential muscles for delivery, but it can also improve stamina and vitality – two things you will definitely need when balancing the demands of two children. If you attend a local class, you may learn some breathwork, helping you to improve your mood and stress levels. And it’s so lovely to take yourself away from the hullabaloo of the house to create some special bonding time with your baby. Connecting with other second-time parents might help too if you are feeling a bit alone or isolated.

If you are looking for more pregnancy wellness ideas, our Read more

Going through changes: discover how to accept and love your postpartum body

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Having a baby is truly life-changing, but it can also shift our relationship with our physical selves. From our wardrobe to our own identity, we look at our bodies in a whole new way after becoming a mum. Here, we explore how to find a better relationship with your body in the postpartum period

Going through changes: discover how to accept and love your postpartum body

While everyone’s pregnancy journey is unique, for many mums-to-be it’s often a time when we feel empowered in our own skin. As we watch our bumps grow, we might marvel at just how capable the human body is (minus the morning sickness and heartburn, of course). One survey by Herbal Essences for its Pregnant Women Can campaign actually found that 65% of expectant mums feel more confident in their bodies than before they fell pregnant but, sadly, this isn’t always the way once the baby has safely arrived.

Part of this is down to societal pressure, with many mums reporting that they’re focused on ‘losing the baby weight’ soon after their child arrives. “An entourage of unrealistic post-baby pictures on social media can exacerbate feelings of dissatisfaction,” says psychotherapist Yvette Vuaran, with a survey by finding that 80% of mums felt pressured to lose weight after having a baby, which, naturally, can negatively impact relationships with their bodies.

This pressure to return to their pre-baby self can leave mums struggling. Research published in the Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology revealed that mums with poor body image actually scored lower in terms of overall wellbeing, self-esteem, and even how competent they felt as a parent. So, the repercussions of this disconnect from our bodies and how they’ve adapted can be vast.

But, it doesn’t have to be this way, and, with the right support and guidance, mums can still feel confident in their own skin.

Why our bodies change after having a baby

First of all, let’s acknowledge that growing and birthing a human for nine months is a pretty huge achievement. Not only does a pregnant person’s body provide nutrients for their baby, but it physically adapts. As the baby grows and takes up more room, organs such as the liver and stomach are literally pushed upwards and displaced. Is it any wonder that this process leaves our bodies looking (and feeling) a little different?

The hormone changes that happen after childbirth also causes bodies to go through all sorts of changes – and some aren’t the most glamorous. For example, your oestrogen falls quickly, and this makes your hair shed much more obviously than usual. While those who breastfeed might notice this makes your skin feel super dry and flaky (this is because your body uses lots of water while you do it).

But it’s not just hormones that change your body; you may be dealing with physical changes too, such as stretch marks, tearing, or changes to your pelvic floor, impacting daily life. So, it’s no wonder that these differences take some time to adjust to, and while it might seem like you’re alone with these things, but the truth is you’re really not. In fact, up to 90% of first time mums will tear to some degree in vaginal Read more

Giovanna Fletcher on balancing parenthood and pursuing her passions

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From dispelling myths about motherhood and revealing the postnatal pressure on parents, to sharing the sanctity of self-care, bestselling author, podcaster, and actress Giovanna Fletcher has been a comforting voice of support for years. And now she’s embarking on a new challenge, following her passions and finding herself centre stage…

Giovanna Fletcher on balancing parenthood and pursuing her passions

Since Giovanna Fletcher launched her hit podcast, ‘Happy Mum, Happy Baby’, a wealth of celebrity guests, from the Princess of Wales to Fearne Cotton, have joined her for openhearted and fearlessly frank conversations about parenthood.

Based on her bestselling book of the same name, the podcast, which boasts more than 20 million downloads, aims, says Giovanna, to help new mums “feel better about themselves” – something made possible by her own natural warmth and openness about her experience of raising her sons Buzz, 8, Buddy, 6, and Max, 4.

And Giovanna has no plans to take a breather from podcasting, because she understands that for some women, her support could mean the difference between life and death.

“The leading cause of death in new mums within the first postnatal year is suicide,” says Giovanna. “Well, let’s have those chats, let’s get people talking so they know they’re not on their own, let’s be that hand in the dark for people when they feel like they aren’t valued and not enough, because they absolutely are enough.

Giovanna Fletcher on balancing parenthood and pursuing her passions

“The more that we can dispel the myth that there’s a right way to do motherhood and that you can fail in it, the better.”

Speaking from her new home in Hertfordshire, against a backdrop of framed pictures including one, which reads ‘Yo Mama You’ve Got This’, Giovanna makes no secret of the fact that, at times, juggling a busy, evolving career and raising her boys with her McFly musician partner, Tom Fletcher, can feel overwhelming, but she says organisation is her key to “self-care” because it avoids her “flapping” around in the morning. Vitally, she accepts that occasional mistakes are par for the course.

“Angela Scanlon once told me that we’ve all got balls flying in the air. Some are glass, and some are plastic. We have to keep the glass balls in the air because they’re precious – that’s family – but we have to allow the plastic balls to drop every now and then,” says Giovanna.

“I’ll let the class WhatsApp slide for a week and then have an ‘Oh my gosh, what’s going on? What have I forgotten? Sorry kids!’ moment.”

Numerous studies show that in heterosexual relationships, women are responsible for the lion’s share of childcare and housework, and perform far more cognitive and emotional labour than men. Research from Arizona State University also reveals that almost 90% of mothers in committed partnerships say this responsibility leaves them feeling overwhelmed, ex