The mental health of pregnant women, new mothers and their families, including those affected by miscarriage, stillbirth and the death of an infant, has been highlighted by a Scottish Parliament Committee.
The Health, Social Care and Sport Committee’s inquiry into women’s mental health experiences before, during and after the birth of a child (otherwise referred to as the perinatal period) highlights a number of issues faced by new mothers over the support they have received, particularly during the pandemic.
In particular, the inquiry found there was a sharp rise in birth trauma incidences reported since the pandemic began. The Committee calls on the Scottish Government and NHS Boards to redouble their focus on delivering services that directly address birth trauma.
The Committee also looked into the of support for those suffering from miscarriage, stillbirth or death of an infant. During its inquiry, the Committee received evidence of some women affected by baby loss who reported being treated close to women giving birth to healthy babies, causing additional trauma to the women affected.
The report calls for accelerated action to establish specialist baby loss units and, in the meantime, for new national protocols to be set up “that ensure families affected by baby loss are consistently treated with respect and compassion and in a trauma-informed way”.
Alongside a focus on community care, the Committee also examined access to specialist Mother and Baby Units (MBUs), of which there are currently two in Scotland. The Committee emphasises the benefits of providing wider access to MBUs for new mothers with complex needs and they express support for the creation of a new MBU serving the north of Scotland.
Gillian Martin MSP, Convener of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee, said:
“Up to 20% of women in Scotland experience negative mental health impacts before, during and after giving birth and the aim of our inquiry was to shine a spotlight on this important issue and to see what more should be done to support these women.
“We heard of concerns in certain health board areas with the support structure in place for parents and families impacted by miscarriage, still birth and the death of an infant, and feel more action is needed to give them appropriate support.
“We had discussions with some new parents affected by baby loss who felt they didn’t receive the standard of care they are entitled to expect. That is why we are calling for every effort to be made to accelerate the establishment of specialist baby loss units
“The evidence we received suggests that during the pandemic, there was a sharp rise in incidences of birth trauma. In many instances this was a direct result of COVID-related restrictions, which limited the support women were able to receive from partners and families before, during and after giving birth.
“Our inquiry heard about the benefits of Mother and Baby Units for women who have complex mental health issues in the perinatal period and the Committee would like to see a concerted effort to widen access to these units in conjunction with the community care offer.
“We think there is a strong case to set up a new Mother and Baby Unit serving the north of Scotland but we also need to focus on issues around staffing, resources and general awareness to maximise the positive impact of perinatal mental health services and third sector organisations who support mothers.”
The Convener added:
“The extensive evidence we have gathered during the course of this inquiry has shown the importance of a preventative and community based approach to perinatal mental health. It is clear that only through accessible, joined up care across both the third sector and statutory services, women and families can get the care they need at this critical time.
“We’d like to put on record our thanks to all of the women who spoke with us and shared their stories.”
Other findings in the report include:
• concern that many women and families are currently having to wait longer than 6 weeks to access perinatal mental health support;
• the increased barriers faced by women and families from minority ethnic backgrounds, or for whom English is not their first language, and those from particularly vulnerable or at risk groups, to access perinatal mental health services;
• the critical role that stigma plays in perinatal mental health and the resulting reluctance for individuals to fully engage with healthcare professionals;
• a call for the Scottish Government to ensure further education institutions deliver perinatal mental health training as core training for all midwifery and nursing students as a priority.
Full report here: Inquiry into perinatal mental health (azureedge.net)
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