New report reveals that new and expectant mums face increased mental health risks caused by the pandemic

During and after pregnancy, women have faced greater likelihood of poor mental health during the pandemic, including anxiety, depression, loneliness and suicidal thoughts, according to a new report commissioned by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance.

Even before the pandemic, we knew that 1 in 10 women develop a mental health condition during pregnancy or within the first year of having a baby. But for the first time, research from over 60 organisations working on the frontline has been brought together to investigate the impact of the pandemic on maternal mental health.

A new report was released today by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA) who commissioned the research, which was conducted by the Centre for Mental Health. The results from the study show that women have faced greater likelihood of poor mental health during and after pregnancy throughout the pandemic. Poor mental health can include feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and suicidal thoughts.

How has Covid-19 affected maternal mental health?

The report shows that as the pandemic progressed, there was an increased risk to the mental wellbeing of pregnant women and new mums at such an emotionally challenging time. It also showed that women of colour and women from poorer economic backgrounds are more likely to experience mental health problems during and after pregnancy. 

The research shows that access to crucial services reduced for pregnant women, new mums and babies across the UK, especially during the early stages of the pandemic. And while health and care staff worked hard to deliver safe care, significant gaps emerged. Women also experienced a reduction in informal support from friends, relatives and networks of other women sharing their experiences.

Extra pressures also included anxiety about giving birth during lockdown without their partners, fears of losing jobs, heightened levels of domestic violence, bereavement, worries about catching Covid-19, and concern about new babies catching the disease. 

You can read the full report and the findings here.

The potential impact on dads and partners is also highlighted, particularly regarding increased concerns around missing pregnancy milestones and supporting their partner. 

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Today’s report should serve as an ear-splitting warning siren about the dangers to women’s maternal mental health and potential risks to the wellbeing of their babies. The pandemic has placed additional challenges on new and expectant mums getting the care and support they need, taking many already-stretched services to the point of breaking. Women of colour and women from disadvantaged backgrounds have been particularly impacted, and Ministers must address this injustice with urgency. 

— Luciana Berger, chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA)

The MMHA has come up with 8 key recommendations based on the findings of the research: 

  1. Assessing the true level of demand. 
  2. Future-proofing perinatal mental health services against future pandemics or similar public health crises. 
  3. Up-to-date data to understand the changing picture. 
  4. Tackling racial discrimination within health systems and adverse outcomes for people of colour. 
  5. Better research into the longer-term emotional and psychological impacts of the pandemic on young families. This includes women, their partners, and infants.
  6. Looking into the impact of ‘remote’ mental health care. 
  7. Urging the Government and NHS to recognise the importance of voluntary and community organisations.
  8. Supporting the mental health of all health and care staff. 
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At Tommy’s, we have seen a huge influx of women in need of our services during the pandemic (an 80% increase), with mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression sadly becoming a common theme for the majority of those we hear from. The effects of coping with a challenging pregnancy, or the loss of a baby, on mental health have clearly been exacerbated in the last 12 months.

— Kate Davies, Research, Policy and Information Director for Tommy's

Support with your mental wellbeing

Although it’s normal to have periods of worry and stress when you’re pregnant, some women have feelings that don’t go away and this can be a sign of something more serious. It’s important to ask for help from your GP or midwife if you’re having bad feelings all the time or you feel you can’t cope. 

You won’t be judged for how you feel. Your pregnancy care team understand that mental health conditions can affect anyone at any time. They will help you stay well so you can look after yourself and your baby.

We have lots of information to help you with your mental health and wellbeing  during and after pregnancy.

If you are a dad or partner, remember your mental health and wellbeing matters too. It is important to seek support if you have concerns and we have more information about where to go for support