New and expectant mums face increased mental health risks caused by the pandemic.

New report raises concerns as services supporting women and babies come under strain.

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 a coalition of leading maternal mental health organisations. 

Women of colour and women from poorer economic backgrounds are more likely to experience mental health problems during and after pregnancy, according to the research. 

The rapid review of evidence commissioned by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA), and conducted by Centre for Mental Health, for the first time compiles all available evidence into one place. This 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. 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 include anxiety about giving birth during lockdown without partners present, fears of losing jobs, heightened levels of domestic violence, bereavement, worries about catching Covid-19, and concern about new infants catching the disease. 

The MMHA, a network of over 100 national organisations, together with lived experience champions and clinicians, is calling on Ministers to fill the pre-Covid gaps in specialist perinatal mental health. In addition, the wider system surrounding these services, including health visiting and maternity, needs to be protected and enhanced. Furthermore, up-to-date monitoring and research of maternal mental healthcare should be commissioned. It also says that without sustained funding, many Voluntary and Community Services will not survive, despite the increased demand from women for their services. 

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

‘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.’ 

Sarah Hughes, chief executive of Centre for Mental Health, which carried out the research, said:

‘The Covid-19 pandemic has been a mental health challenge across society, but it has not affected everyone equally. It has placed especial pressure on women during pregnancy and after they’ve given birth. And it has made inequalities that were always there in plain sight even more pronounced. We need to take this opportunity to review and reframe what support women should expect for their mental health during the perinatal period, and to make sure that we prepare for any future crisis to avoid another loss of support at a crucial time in people’s lives.’

Aleema Shivji, Comic Relief Executive Director for Impact and Investment said:

‘The pandemic has put an unprecedented strain on the nation’s mental health and it is sadly no surprise that, as this report proves, pregnant women and new mums who face enormous challenges, have sadly been worst affected.  It’s clear that more work is needed urgently to help tackle the shame and stigma attached to maternal mental health for mums to feel recognised, supported and able to ask for help. At Comic Relief we have prioritised funding mental health services for over 25 years, but it is clear this is still needed now more than ever.’

Becky Saunders, Head of Policy, Home-Start UK and Parent-Infant Psychotherapist said: 

This report must be a call to action for all of those concerned with the wellbeing and mental health of women and their babies. It underscores again, what we are hearing and seeing from parents supported by local Home-Starts across the UK, that the pandemic risks casting a long shadow on maternal mental health, and that the impact has been greatest for those already facing increased risks, such as those from more disadvantaged backgrounds. It is essential that maternal mental health support, including early intervention, is available for women and that we work to reduce stigma as we continue to face the effects of the pandemic and beyond.

The report Maternal mental health during a pandemic was commissioned by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance and conducted by Centre for Mental Health, and covers all four parts of the UK. 

The Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA) is a charity and coalition of UK organisations, including Home-Start UK, with a vision to see all women across the UK get consistent, accessible, and quality care and support for their mental health during pregnancy and in the year after giving birth.

Read the full report and recommendations