Supporting women who have serious mental illness in planning a pregnancy

We are delighted to have partnered with Public Health England, NHS England and King’s College London in developing targeted supportive resources for women who are managing a serious mental illness (SMI) and may become pregnant in the future.
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We are delighted to have partnered with Public Health England, NHS England and King’s College London in developing targeted supportive resources for women who are managing a serious mental illness (SMI) and may become pregnant in the future.

Close to 551,000 people in the UK are managing a serious mental illness. A large proportion of these are women who may be contemplating pregnancy or are at risk of unplanned pregnancy. 

Women with severe mental illness are at particularly high-risk for poor physical and mental health during and after pregnancy. For example, those who have a previous diagnosis of bipolar or schizoaffective disorder are at a very high risk of developing post-partum psychosis. There is a need for specific guidance to help them make informed decisions around timing of the pregnancy and treatment during pregnancy.  

The resources include:

  • a web hub of comprehensive guidance and support
  • an improved journey for women with SMI within our existing Planning for Pregnancy tool, which offers guidance on mental and physical health to all women in the pre-conception period
  • practical guidance for frontline health professionals who work with women with SMI

Despite the need to carefully manage their SMI going into pregnancy, studies have shown that up to 90% of women will stop taking medication for an existing mental health problem when they stop contraception or when they discover they are pregnant, usually for fear of affecting the baby’s health. This is often done without talking to a health professional beforehand and it can have very serious consequences, including relapse, which could place them and their baby at higher risk. 

Jane Brewin, Tommy’s CEO, said:

“Women with SMI have some of the worst pregnancy outcomes and are often overlooked in traditional pregnancy information, leaving them struggling for advice and support. We are delighted to have been involved in this project to develop targeted guidance for them so they can better plan for a healthy pregnancy. This additional hub and improved tool will now become part of the suite of our comprehensive PregnancyHub resources we offer for women to support their mental health in the perinatal period.”

Professor Louise Howard, Kings College London, said:

"I’m delighted that we have been able to produce these resources for women and healthcare professionals to support women with serious mental illness in planning for pregnancy. This will mean that women can be ready both physically and mentally for pregnancy and when getting to know their new baby and reduce the risk of physical and mental health complications. The period before pregnancy (preconception) is an ideal time to prepare for a pregnancy even if not actively planning to do so right now and I hope these resources will make women feel more confident and able to discuss future childbearing with their healthcare professionals.”

Dr Lucinda Green, Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist, said

"This is a fantastic resource. It will help healthcare professionals feel more confident in proactively discussing the possibility of future pregnancy with women of childbearing age who have had a serious mental illness. It will potentially reduce the chance of unplanned pregnancies, empower women who want to have a family, increase the number of women accessing specialist preconception advice and improve women’s physical and mental health before and during pregnancy."