New mothers’ mental health problems not picked up by doctors
New mothers aren’t getting the support they need as their mental health problems go unnoticed by doctors, research suggests.
On top of that, women are afraid of telling their doctors they are having problems in case they are deemed incapable of looking after their baby.
The survey, from NCT, showed that half of mothers had mental health problems either during pregnancy or in the first year after their child’s birth.
In 42% of mothers, their illnesses were not picked up by a doctor or other health professional.
Mental health problems experienced by new mothers can include postnatal depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and postpartum psychosis.
According to the research, mental health issues were not being uncovered when mothers attended their routine check-up six weeks after the birth of their child.
Just over a fifth of women said they were not asked about their emotional well-being at all at their check up, with a fifth also stating they felt unable to disclose their emotional or mental health problem.
Of those who didn’t disclose they had a problem, nearly half said it was because they were worried that doctors would then think they weren’t capable of caring for their baby.
43 per cent of those who kept their problems to themselves said their doctor didn’t seem interested, and 24 per cent said simply that there wasn’t time to discuss the issue.
Now NCT has launched a campaign calling for an improvement in the check-up protocol to reduce the number of mothers going undiagnosed.
The parents’ charity notes that extra funding would help reduce the pressure on GPs, allowing them time to give every mother a full appointment rather than a rushed few minutes squeezed into the same slot as their baby’s examination.
GPs should also receive better maternal health training and guidance, the charity also advises.
Sarah McMullen of the NCT said: “It is shocking that so many new mothers aren’t getting the help they need which can have a devastating impact on the women and their families.
“Some mothers aren’t open about how they’re feeling as they’re terrified they’re going to have their baby taken away. A third of women said their six-week check was rushed, and for some it lasted only three minutes.
“GPs are under incredible pressure so it’s no wonder that this crucial opportunity to uncover any mental health problems is being missed.”
Postnatal depression is a common problem among new mothers, and affects more than 1 in every 10 women within one year of giving birth, according to the NHS.
While many new mothers will feel down, tearful, or anxious in the first week or so after giving birth, if these feelings last longer than two weeks it could be that the mother has postnatal depression.
Symptoms include low mood, loss of interest in the wider world, lacking energy, withdrawing from contact with other people, and having difficulty bonding with your baby.
The condition can develop very gradually, and appear at any point within the year after giving birth, meaning often mothers won’t realise they have it.
New mothers shouldn’t struggle on if they are experiencing any of the symptoms, and are encouraged to visit their doctor and speak to their partner or family.
A range of help is available to treat mental health conditions, and seeking support does not mean your baby will be taken away from you.