Pregnant women suffering from mental health problems and those at risk should receive extra support before, during and after pregnancy, according to the National Institute for Heath and Care Excellence (NICE).
Between 10-20% of women develop a mental illness during pregnancy, or within the first year after having a baby.
Depression and anxiety are the most common problems during pregnancy, with around 12% of women experiencing depression and 13% experiencing anxiety at some point. Depression and anxiety also affect up to 20% of women in the first year after childbirth.
In almost half of the UK, pregnant women and new mothers do not have access to specialist perinatal mental health services, potentially leaving them and their babies at risk.
To help address the gaps in care, the updated NICE guideline makes recommendations for the recognition, assessment, care and treatment of mental health problems in women during pregnancy and up to one year after childbirth, and in women who are planning a pregnancy.
Since the original guideline was published in 2007, more information has emerged on using drugs to treat mental health problems during pregnancy and on stopping medication. More is now known about detecting mental health problems in mothers and pregnant women.
The updated guidance recommends discussing with all women of childbearing potential who have a new, existing or past mental health problem, the use of contraception and any plans for a pregnancy.
Health professionals should discuss how pregnancy and childbirth might affect a mental health problem, including the risk of relapse, as well as how a mental health problem and its treatment might affect the woman, the fetus and baby, and parenting.
Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “It is vital that midwives play a safe-guarding role protecting and advocating for both the mother and baby.
“It is not enough for the Government to offer midwives more training in perinatal mental health care, when it is a postcode lottery whether a mother will have a perinatal mental health midwife. We desperately need more midwives and maternity support workers to work with these hard-to-reach and vulnerable women. Otherwise, we are failing mothers, babies and families.”