This Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust (LPT) is reminding all parents of babies and toddlers who are struggling with their mental health that help is available by reaching out.

Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week is a week-long campaign, taking place from Monday 29 April to Sunday 5 May 2024, dedicated to talking about mental health issues during pregnancy and up to two years after giving birth. Throughout the week, LPT is raising awareness about some of the support available to parents across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, as well as providing tips on ways to support mental wellbeing in early parenthood.

Around one in four women are affected by perinatal mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year after birth – and more than two-in-three (around 70%) will hide or underplay maternal mental health difficulties.

Tanya Hibbert, executive director of mental health services at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, said: “Many new parents will find that having a baby impacts their emotional wellbeing and mental health. Although it is often a very special time, it can also be stressful and exhausting – and for some, it can have a significant impact on their mental wellbeing. If this is you, you’re not alone. Difficulties in this period are very common.

“Help is available if you need it. Getting support early can help you to recover more quickly and help you, your child and your family to live a happy, healthy life together.

“Please just start by reaching out to someone; a family member, friend, health visitor, midwife, obstetrician or speak to your GP.”

Signs of mental health issues to look out for in someone who is pregnant or has recently had a baby include:

  • Feeling tearful, anxious or low for more than two weeks
  • Feeling much more irritable or angry than usual
  • Feeling hopeless, as though things will not get better
  • Significant changes to your appetite, such as eating more for comfort or forgetting to eat
  • A loss of enjoyment or interest in anything
  • Avoiding other people
  • Struggling to bond with your baby
  • Feelings of inadequacy/incompetency as a parent
  • Negative intrusive thoughts
  • Frequent crying for no obvious reason
  • Constantly worrying or feeling anxious; you might notice a racing pulse, thumping heart, breathlessness or sweating
  • Thoughts or acts of self-harm
  • Feeling confused or paranoid that something bad will happen
  • Experiencing hallucinations.

These can be indicators of a number of perinatal mental health conditions, such as postnatal depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and postpartum psychosis.

Fathers and partners can also be affected during the perinatal period and can experience symptoms too.

It is also advised for people with a history of mental health problems to seek support from their GP, midwife, health visitor or mental health team when pregnant or thinking of having a baby.

Tanya added: “Please know that you are not alone and there are people ready to help you. Feeling mentally unwell or seeking help does not mean, you are a bad parent or unable to care for your baby, or that you’ll forced to take medication, or that you’re never going to feel better again. Our professionals are very experienced, compassionate and have seen and helped many people who have struggled and then have gone on to get better.”

Specialist support is often provided by Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust’s Perinatal Mental Health Service, which supports people who have complex or severe mental health issues relating to pregnancy, childbirth and the first year following a child’s birth. The Trust’s Maternal Mental Health Service helps people with moderate to severe difficulties related to birth trauma, baby loss, and tokophobia (a fear of pregnancy).

Parents can also get advice in-between health visitor visits and appointments by calling the Healthy Together Helpline or using the ChatHealth secure text messaging service.

The ChatHealth service operates Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm, excluding bank holidays. All texts will be responded to by a public health nurse (health visitor) within 24 hours. Outside of the service working hours, you’ll receive a message back to inform you that your text will be responded to once the line reopens.

Leicester City: text 07520 615 381

Leicestershire and Rutland: text 07520 615 382

The Healthy Together Helpline can be reached by calling 0300 300 3001. Calls are answered from 9am – 4.30pm on weekdays, excluding bank holidays.

Please note that neither are crisis services.

Anyone needing immediate help with their mental health living in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland can call the Mental Health Central Access Point, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on 0808 800 3302 or by calling NHS 111 for physical, medical and mental health issues.

Always call 999 if there is an emergency or threat to life.

Self-care tips that can help to support your emotional wellbeing

It can help to find ways to look after yourself when becoming a new parent. Some ways you can do this are:

  • Building a support network – try to get out to local parent and baby groups, peer support networks or do an activity with friends or family.
  • Accept help if it is offered and you feel comfortable doing so, for example with shopping, cooking or cleaning.
  • Try not to put pressure on yourself to keep up with all the things you used to do or set unrealistic standards.
  • Be kind to yourself and practise self-compassion. Talk to yourself in the same way you’d talk to a friend and try not to be hard on yourself.
  • Keep active, even if it is going for a walk with the pram. Physical activity can help to boost your mood.
  • Eat a healthy balanced diet.

Helpful websites