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Support new mothers to give them and their children the best life prospects

June 1, 2019 11:00 AM
By Wera Hobhouse
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Today is Global Day of Parents - a day proclaimed by the UN to honour parents throughout the world. The birth of a child is a life-changing event. For many mothers, this will be the happiest time of their lives, but this is never the whole story. New mothers can often experience mental health problems before and after birth, cope with the trauma of pregnancy and birth, and struggle with societal expectations of motherhood.

On International Women's Day in March, I presented my second Private Members Bill to Parliament. This bill seeks to enshrine a mother's right to mental health checks into legislation - demanding that all mothers in the UK be given a six-week post-natal mental health check.

Research from the National Childbirth Institute shows that 60% of new mothers feel unable to talk to a health professional about their emotional state.

Research from the National Childbirth Institute shows that 60% of new mothers feel unable to talk to a health professional about their emotional state. Some said they were embarrassed, ashamed, or worried that medical staff would think they couldn't look after their own baby. And 22% of new mothers were never asked about their emotional wellbeing at all.

Since 2004, the six-week baby check has been included as a mandatory requirement in the General Medical Services (GMS) contract. Yet the mother's mental health and wellbeing check was omitted from the contract - despite being advised by NICE guidelines. This has led to a postcode lottery, where some women receive a thorough mental health check while others can find check-ups rushed or even skipped.

With around one in five women experiencing a mental health problem during pregnancy or in the year after birth, it is vital that we ensure mothers are supported. Not only is this important for the future health of the mother, but by ensuring appropriate and early mental health support is provided for mothers the impact of mental illness on babies and young children can be reduced or removed completely.

The wider conversation around parity of esteem argues that without mental health, the physical health of a person suffers.

The Conservative Government has said it is committed to supporting mental health services for people across the country. However, their lack of action calls this claim into doubt - mental health services cannot exist in a vacuum and support must be threaded through our health service.

The Liberal Democrats have long championed improving mental health support. The wider conversation around parity of esteem argues that without mental health, the physical health of a person suffers. This is plainly obvious in the case of a mother and her new-born child.

Motherhood and birth have too long been the remit of myth and common misconception. This Global Day of Parents we need honest conversations with mothers about what they should expect and how they may be feeling. To allow mental health to be side-lined is a dereliction of duty of care to new mothers and their babies.