Oxford Health’s Specialist Perinatal Mental Health services in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire were set up in 2019, thanks to a share of £365m of Government funding for perinatal services after a shortfall in support was identified.
Perinatal Lead for Buckinghamshire Perinatal Team Claire Daniels says:
“Suicide remains the leading cause of death within the perinatal period. So, it is a time when we really need to get in and work with families. I always see it as the earliest intervention somebody’s life: you’re intervening in utero for the baby, and the long-term effect on the relationship between mother and baby can profoundly affect the wellbeing of that family going forward.”
The term perinatal refers to the period from pregnancy through to 12 months following childbirth. During the perinatal period, around 10 to 20 per cent of women are affected by perinatal mental health difficulties. These can occur quickly and can range from mild to severe. Furthermore, if a mother is suffering from serious perinatal mental ill-health there is a greater risk of suicide.
Positive maternal mental health contributes to better outcomes for the mother and child, including good parenting and giving the child the best start in life. At Oxford Health, the two counties’ perinatal services offer comprehensive support, reassurance and advice as well as psychological interventions such as talking therapies.
Oxfordshire Perinatal Team Manager Caren Duley explains:
“We offer preconception advice to women who are planning to become pregnant who may have substantial history of mental ill-health difficulties. They may be on a variety of medication – and when women become pregnant, one of their first thoughts is to stop all their medication. To reduce the risk of relapse we offer preconception advice on how to manage this safely.
“We also offer preconception advice for women who’ve had previous birth trauma or birth loss, so we can support the woman when they do become pregnant.”
The Specialist Perinatal Service will work with women from when they discover they are pregnant, up to one year post-birth. Caren says:
“We monitor the mother’s mental health throughout their perinatal period to enable us to monitor their risk, we also work very, very closely with the health visitors and the community midwives.”
In Oxfordshire the service also has a partner’s forum to offer support.
“This is specifically for any partner supporting the woman through their pregnancy or the birth. We hold it in an evening rather than during the day. Our services run Monday to Friday 9 to 5, but the partner of forums are held in the evening because majority of mothers’ partners work.”
Claire and Caren are aware that some women may be reluctant to approach maternal mental health services.
“The barriers can be the stigma or shame and the fear of baby being removed, and this is how it had been for generations. This is why the NHS England funding came in: something needed to be done to challenge the stigma and discrimination about perinatal mental illness. And we’re here to help, not judge.”
Accessing perinatal services
If you are worried about your mental health or your partner’s mental health and how this is impacting them during the perinatal period, please discuss your concerns with your GP, health visitor or midwife who can refer on your behalf.
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Published: 17 September 2021