Struggling mental health of new mothers in pandemic ‘could cost extra £17.5 billion’

·2-min read
Researchers discovered support from partners, family, and friends during childbirth was a crucial element in protecting women against suffering ill mental health (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Researchers discovered support from partners, family, and friends during childbirth was a crucial element in protecting women against suffering ill mental health (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Rules forcing women to give birth alone or attend maternity appointments on their own during the pandemic are leading to increasing numbers of new mothers experiencing mental health problems, research has found.

A study, carried out by a leading pregnancy charity called Birthrights, discovered perinatal depression and anxiety suffered by new mothers could cost an extra £17.5 billion in England.

Researchers discovered support from partners, family, and friends during childbirth was a crucial element in protecting women against suffering ill mental health - with maternity services which allowed partners to be present able to curb the aforementioned cost by half.

Maria Booker, of Birthrights, said: “Birth is a significant life event. Familiar support around this time has been shown to improve clinical outcomes.

“We know from our work that the impact of any restrictions on pregnant women and birthing people and their families are still not being explicitly considered.

“This inevitably leads to the situation we hear about through our advice line where women who have had suffered previous loss or trauma are left without the support they need, where individuals have to receive devastating news alone, and where someone who is recovering from a difficult birth also has to care for a sick baby on a ward where staff are already overstretched.”

She notes that while the pandemic has generated “unprecedented pressures” for NHS maternity services, rules must nevertheless be proportionate, with healthcare professionals aware of the repercussions restrictions have on new mothers and their partners.

Rachael Hunter, whose study was published in the Journal of Quality in Health Care & Economics, said: “Research shows perinatal depression and anxiety have significant implications for pregnant women and their children: it not only has a negative impact on their mental and physical well-being but also represents a considerable cost to the health care sector and wider society.”

The Associate Professor at University College London added: “The likelihood of perinatal depression and anxiety has likely increased during the Covid-19 pandemic in England, although more research in this area is needed.

“Health care organisations that provide maternity services have a duty of care to reduce the risk of perinatal depression and anxiety through identifying those at risk and signposting them to suitable services.”

The Independent has reported how some maternity services have been left into chaos in the wake of the Covid crisis, with some women forced to give birth alone and others forced to wear masks during childbirth.

While frontline service providers previously warned the upheaval of maternity services is already creating a “mental health epidemic” among new mothers and their partners who have been left traumatised by their distressing experiences in hospitals up and down the country.

A poll by campaign group Make Birth Better, which was previously shared exclusively with The Independent, found almost half of pregnant women who were dependant on support from a specialist mental health midwife said that help had stopped.

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