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

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

What is pregnancy stigma and how is it impacting expectant mothers?

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One in four expectant mothers are reluctant to share their pregnancy news for fear of the stigma that they may face

What is pregnancy stigma and how is it impacting expectant mothers?

The discovery of a pregnancy is often a cause for joy and celebration as parents look forward to the start of a new chapter of their lives. But among the happiness, a study from Culture Shift, a platform for reporting bullying and harassment, has found that one in four expectant mothers are reluctant to share their pregnancy news, due to a fear of the stigma that they may face in the workplace – with the figures rising to nearly half of women who had been in employment for less than six months when they found out they were pregnant.

And the fears aren’t unfounded. 21% of survey respondents know someone who had faced maternity discrimination at work, and 12% have experienced it themselves.

Sources of stigma and discrimination highlighted in the survey included:

  • Feeling like their colleagues were talking about them behind their back
  • Believing their employer no longer recognised their good work
  • Not being invited to team socials
  • Hours were reduced when they shared they were pregnant
  • Not being included in team meetings

All these things come together to create an anxiety-inducing and uncomfortable environment, at a time when support is needed the most.

“It’s particularly concerning to see that for one in 10, the perpetrator is their manager, the very person employees should be able to confide in when they are in a challenging situation and who is meant to be setting an example for fellow colleagues,” says Gemma McCall, CEO at Culture Shift.

“Having a child is a huge moment for parents and affects so many aspects of their life. Expectant mothers already have a lot to contend with as they prepare for the arrival of their little one and they shouldn’t have to be subjected to such behaviour which can lead to unnecessary stress and anxiety. Not only this, but facing maternity discrimination can make expectant mothers feel incredibly isolated. Being pregnant should be an enjoyable experience for mothers, and they shouldn’t be exposed to such negative behaviour in their place of work.”

What can I do if I’m experiencing pregnancy stigma or discrimination?

By law, an employer must not discriminate against someone because of their pregnancy, because of an illness related to their pregnancy – including related time off – or because of maternity pay or leave that they are taking or plan to take. And this law applies regardless of how long the individual has been in employment.

Some examples of discrimination include dismissal, not offering them a job, changing their pay, forcing them to work on maternity leave, refusal of job training or promotion opportunities, reduction in hours, pressure to resign, or failure to remove health and safety risks at work – and this applies throughout pregnancy, and until the end of maternity leave.

For information and guidance, you can get free advice from

But while more obvious discrimination can be challenged by the law, subtle stigma is rife, and it’s forcing expectant mothers to make difficult choices, like hiding their pregna