Getting it right for mothers and babies

Protecting two generations together

Our report 'Getting it Right for Mothers and Babies', written with Maternal Mental Health Scotland, is a call to action to address the gaps in community perinatal mental health services and prevent unnecessary suffering in families.

A compelling moral case is behind the drive to early intervention for children.  That case is fundamentally about the rights of the child, and we greatly welcome recent legislative developments to further embed this approach in Scotland.

We are concerned about the particular needs and rights of babies and very young children.  Babies are totally reliant on others to assert their rights - they are the most vulnerable members of society. Children's rights are fundamental throughout their journey to adulthood but if those rights are not upheld for babies and infants, there is a significant problem for society.

That is why we must do more and develop what we know 'works' in tackling perinatal mental illnesses. Some parts of Scotland have services which are amongst the best in the UK in supporting pregnant women and new mothers and their babies. However, this report tells us that there is more to do to ensure that women and their families receive timely appropriate care, consistently across the whole of Scotland.

By implementing the clinical guideline on perinatal mental health (PMH) we will be taking preventative action for two generations at once; we will be addressing inequalities and improving outcomes for babies, while looking after the wellbeing of their mothers. However, treating a mother's mental health problems is essential, but not sufficient, to achieve this.

Our community perinatal mental health services must also offer support to strengthen mothers' relationship with their babies. Interventions which might promote infant mental health must be linked to PMH pathways. Midwives, health visitors, GPs and mental health nurses must be well informed and supported, with sufficient local services and activities to refer women to. Our research found significant disparities in this.

Whatever they are going through, mothers want the best for their babies. As the mothers with lived experience of perinatal mental health issues wrote in the introduction to our report: 'Mums want help, they embrace it. Because of the stigma attached, you think, 'PND is for mums who aren't coping'. You never once think it will be you. It's easy to lie on the Edinburgh Post Natal Scale. But it's also easy for a health visitor to say, 'baby's important, but how are you? At such an important and vulnerable time in women's lives, please don't leave us hanging.'

To answer that plea, 'Getting it Right for Mothers and Babies' recommends that:

  • All NHS Boards should have local specialised perinatal mental health services
  • Each NHS Board should have a local multi-professional perinatal mental health network
  • Pregnant and postnatal women with mental health problems should have rapid access to talking therapies
  • All women with, or at risk of, serious perinatal mental illness should be seen by specialist perinatal mental health services
  • All health professionals working with pregnant and postnatal women should have up-to-date knowledge about maternal mental illness

We have both the commitment and the opportunity to protect two generations of Scots at once.