The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has released new guidelines for how doctors, nurses, health visitors and midwives should help pregnant women, new mothers and those who lose babies, deal with mental health issues.
The guidance comes two weeks after the bodies of Charlotte Bevan, 30, and her newborn daughter Zaani Tiana were found in the Avon gorge, after Charlotte, who had suffered from depression and schizophrenia, went missing from a maternity hospital.
The guidelines are not being issued in response to the tragedy.
According to NICE, 12 per cent of women experience depression and 13 per cent experience anxiety at some point in their pregnancy.
One in five women will be affected by depression and anxiety in the first year after childbirth.
Changes to body shape can raise issues for women with eating disorders, and women may also experience anxiety disorders, including obsessive‑compulsive disorder (OCD), tokophobia (extreme fear of giving birth) and post‑traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Women with a severe mental illness such as psychosis, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are more likely to have a relapse while pregnant than at other times.
Severe mental illness may develop more quickly immediately after childbirth, than at other times and can be more serious.
According to the new guidelines, pregnant women with new, existing or past mental health problems should be advised on how pregnancy and childbirth could affect their mental well-being.
Mental health professionals should provide detailed advice on benefits and risks posed by any drug treatments to a woman and her baby at each stage of pregnancy and after childbirth.
The guidance also states that women who have had a traumatic birth experience should be treated with understanding by healthcare professionals and offered advice and support.
If a baby is stillborn or dies soon after birth, women and their partners should be offered the chance to see a photograph of the baby, have mementos of the baby, see the baby or hold the baby.
Professor Mark Baker, NICE Centre for Clinical Practice director, said: “Giving women the right treatment at the right time can have a profound effect – not just for the mother, but her family too. The effect of getting this right can last for years.
“The guidance makes a number of new and updated recommendations, covering not only treatments, but also in providing women who are newly diagnosed or with a history of mental health problems with the information and support they need before they become pregnant.”
Professor Louise Howard, Professor in Women’s Mental Health at King’s College London and chair of the group that developed the guideline, said: “This guideline aims to highlight the full range of mental health problems that can occur during pregnancy and after childbirth, and ensure they are identified and treated promptly.
“These disorders are common but treatable and we hope that this guideline will help women get comprehensive holistic assessment and treatment quickly so that pregnancy, and the period after childbirth, are times of optimal mental and physical health”.
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