Mental health care during and after pregnancy must be improved 

A new report from the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) warns that mental health support during and after pregnancy must be improved, and calls on the Government to invest in perinatal mental health training for midwives.

The ‘voice of midwifery’ has published a new ‘roadmap’ to ensure that women and birthing people receive the support they need, when they need it, and to improve perinatal mental health care for all.  

1 in 5 women will experience mental health issues during pregnancy and up to a year after birth, ranging from anxiety and depression to severe illnesses such as postpartum psychosis.    

Suicide remains one of the leading causes of death in new mothers up to the first year after giving birth. Yet mental health needs remain secondary to physical health needs of women during pregnancy.  

The RCM's report shows how very few women who die as a result of poor perinatal mental health have received a formal mental health diagnosis, despite reporting symptoms.

Our own research also shows that mental health support before pregnancy is missing. 24% of people who have used the 'planning for pregnancy' tool on the Tommy’s website said they had mental health issues, with 8% having a serious mental health illness. Yet at the time of using the tool, 58% of users with a serious mental illness had not talked to a health professional about their pregnancy plans.

The RCM is calling for: all professionals working with women in the perinatal period to have good knowledge and understanding of perinatal mental health; every maternity service to have a minimum of one full-time Band 7 perinatal specialist midwife; and all maternity professionals to be equally concerned with mental as well as physical health in pregnancy, childbirth, and the postnatal period.  

Tommy’s Chief Executive Kath Abrahams says:  

“We’re backing the Royal College of Midwives' calls for greater investment in perinatal mental health care. Between 2018 and 2020, suicide was the leading cause of maternal death in the first year after birth. And devastatingly, suicide rates are growing. Data shows that in 2020, women were 3x more likely to die by suicide during or up to 6 weeks after the end of pregnancy compared to 2017-19.  

“These shocking statistics, and the stories behind the statistics - of 100s of babies left without a mother - show a critical gap in care for those experiencing mental health issues during or after pregnancy.  

“Despite previous Government pledges to increase funding for perinatal mental health support, women and pregnant people seem increasingly unable to access the mental health care they need. Action must be taken to ensure that women and birthing people’s mental health needs are taken as seriously as their physical needs. Both must be better resourced.”    

Find out more about the RCM’s calls for better perinatal mental health support here, and read a full copy of the roadmap ‘Strengthening perinatal health: a roadmap to the right support at the right time’.