A mum from Wrexham who struggled with her mental health following the birth of her son, has joined the NSPCC in calling for specialist mother and baby units to be available in Wales.
As part of World Mental Health Day Sarah Hayes, whose son Alex was born 24 years ago, has shared her story of experiencing postpartum psychosis – a severe, but treatable, mental health condition that can occur after having a baby.
She is also supporting NSPCC Cymru/Wales’ Fight for a Fair Start campaign which is calling for improved perinatal mental health provision for parents during pregnancy and following birth.
Perinatal mental health problems are one of the most common complications experienced during pregnancy and after birth with up to one in five women – and up to one in 10 dads – affected.
It is estimated that 6,000 new mothers every year will experience perinatal mental health problems.
If left untreated, these conditions can have a devastating impact on women and their families, making it harder for parents to provide the care babies need for healthy social, intellectual and emotional development.
Despite this, there is currently no specialist mother and baby unit provision for mothers and their families experiencing the most severe conditions associated to perinatal mental health.
“I could see myself on the television as it said I had won the lottery. Then I called my mum,” said Sarah.
“She looked confused and then we called for an ambulance as something was clearly wrong.
“The paramedics arrived and eventually a community midwife was called out, who told my family I had postpartum psychosis.
“None of us had heard of this condition – including my husband and I and we were both health professionals.
“I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital as there were no available mother and baby unit beds.
“I was utterly terrified and couldn’t work out what was happening to me. I was so distressed and didn’t know where my son was.”
Despite more than 20 years since her son was born, Sarah believes that little has changed in that time and new parents could still have a similar experience to her.
She said: “There was no support or information at the time. We were completely in the dark. I didn’t know what was happening to me.
“I feel that the right specialist care and support in a mother and baby unit was missing at time. Keeping mothers and babies together is crucial. I would have been less distressed if I was with my baby and I’m sure my recovery would have been so much quicker.”
NSPCC Cymru/Wales has welcomed the Welsh Government’s commitment to establishing a mother and baby unit in Wales.
However, it says that specialist provision needs to be” urgently established” and available for all women and their families in Wales experiencing the most severe perinatal mental health problems.
Dr Sarah Witcombe-Hayes, a senior policy researcher at NSPCC Cymru/Wales, said: “Mums and dads in Wales are still not receiving all aspects of mental health support that they need to recover from perinatal mental health problems, and to give their babies the best start in life.
“Experiencing perinatal mental health problems can make it harder for parents to provide the sensitive and responsive care that babies need at such an important time, and that is why it is so crucial to have the right support in place.
“It is vital that all women and their families affected by the most serious problems can access potentially lifesaving treatment and support from a mother and baby unit in Wales when they need it.”
Dr Jess Heron, the CEO of APP, said: “We welcome the NSPCC’s campaign as most women who develop postpartum psychosis will need admission to a specialist ‘mother and baby unit’.
“It is not right that women who become ill in Wales have to be admitted far away from their families in England, or risk remaining ill for longer than they should do; being separated from their infant; or even risk tragic outcomes.
“We fully endorse the call made by NSPCC for women to have immediate access to a ‘mother and baby unit’ within a reasonable distance of their home if they need it, and to have access to specialist care within perinatal mental health teams wherever they live.”
In Wales, the NSPCC is inviting people to support the Fight for Fair Start campaign by writing to their AM.
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