New dads should be offered more mental health support so they can help take the “pressure” off mothers, experts from the NHS have suggested.
NHS England has revealed it is extending the period of postnatal support for mothers to two years, but it also plans an expansion of support services for partners of new mums with options currently being trialled including face-to-face counselling sessions, organised “dad-and-kids” pram walks and Zoom games nights.
A blog post, by Dr Giles Berrisford, Associate National Clinical Director for perinatal mental health for NHS England and Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, First Chief Midwifery Officer (England) discussed the benefits of the services designed to take a “whole family approach” to care provision.
Research shows around one in four women experience mental health issues during pregnancy or in the postnatal period, but fathers are also impacted with figures finding that up to half of those whose partners are suffering from depression were also experiencing depression themselves.
The post detailed some examples across the country of how the approach is making “positive changes for families”, which it says are supporting “fathers who are scared and overwhelmed or unsure how to support their partners”.
One such example is the Leeds Perinatal Mental Health Service, which has set up a Partners Peer Support Service, which includes services such as a monthly Zoom general knowledge quiz.
NHS England believes through this and other support services “new dads can gain confidence as parents and talk about their mental health – and this makes a real difference to how they can then support mothers.”
Read more: Male postnatal depression: Signs and symptoms of condition as ‘Eastenders’ tackles subject
Commenting on the plans, Kerry Mcleod, Head of Information Content at mental health charity Mind tells Yahoo UK: “It’s vital that new parents who are struggling with their mental health receive ongoing and holistic support.
“Expanding services to offer postnatal support for two years is a positive step towards providing the longer-term support that people need after giving birth.
“We also know that many partners can develop mental health problems during this period too, so we welcome a whole family approach.”
Details of the plans to extend support to new parents come as it has been revealed a “key” check-up for new mothers is often being treated as a tick-box exercise.
Patient champion group, Healthwatch England, said the six-week postnatal checks are “failing” new mothers.
It warned many of the assessments are not taking place at all and when they do take place, the majority of women are not satisfied about the level of mental health support.
The check, which is supposed to happen six to eight weeks after a woman has given birth, is when a GP is due to make sure the woman feels well and is recovering properly, physically and mentally.
A new poll, shared with the PA news agency, found 16% of new mothers said they did not receive the six to eight-week check.
Of those who said they had been offered the postnatal check, only 22% said they were satisfied with the time their GP spent talking to them about their mental health.
Some 15% of the 2,700 new mothers surveyed said they had had their six-week check over the phone.
Read more: Postnatal depression left dad suicidal
The patient safety organisation said this could mean that many new parents may find it harder to verbalise their mental health struggles and discuss physical issues.
The poll, which took place between October and December last year, revealed that two-thirds of the women (around 1,800) said they had struggled with their mental health during and after pregnancy.
Among these, 41% said they received no support to help with their mental health during and post-pregnancy.
But it has never been more important to offer new parents support when they welcome a new arrival.
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Pressures as a new parent
“New parents are becoming parents at an extraordinarily stressful time in the UK, with far less support available from public services and third sector organisations, as well as financial stressors and difficulty in accessing childcare support,” explains clinical psychologist Dr Emma Svanberg (aka @mumologist).
“We have seen the mental health impact of this on children and families, particularly mothers, with an increase in mental health problems since the pandemic alongside decreased access to services (both public and informal support).”
When we invest in the mental health and support of new parents, Dr Svanberg says we are also investing in the long term wellbeing of that child and whole family, which she describes as a “win-win situation”.
“Suicide is a leading cause of death in the perinatal phase and poor mental health in parents has a long-standing impact on children, as well as the co-parental relationship,” she adds.
Read more: Zoë Tapper reveals how ‘crippling postnatal depression’ changed her life: ‘It hit me like a sledgehammer’
That’s why she is supportive of the recent refresh in measures, which will see further help offered to new dads.
“The focus on maternal mental health has been an important one, given that one in four women experience perinatal mental health problems,” Dr Svanberg explains. “However this has also perpetuated the idea that parenting is women’s work.
“We know that around one in 10 new dads experience perinatal depression. Dads and partners may also experience PTSD having witnessed a difficult birth, and those with pre-existing mental health problems such as OCD, anxiety or eating disorders can find that becoming a parent causes them to re-emerge.”
Dr Svanberg believes that by safeguarding both parents or caregivers’ mental health, we are not only supporting that individual but also their relationship with each other and their new baby.
“However, at present the Long Term Plan offers support to partners only when their partner has a mental health difficulty, thus potentially excluding many who are not known to services,” she adds.
“If we are to truly support new families one of the most helpful things we could do is change who we are talking to when we think of the word ‘parent’ and offer significant funding towards their support.”
What to do if new parenthood is affecting your mental health
“Getting out in daylight is a great way to improve your mental health,” advises Rachel FitzD, parenting consultant and expert at The Baby Show Manchester. “It’s really important to try and get outside in the fresh air every day for some exercise.”
Consider your diet
It’s easy to go without regular eating when you have a new baby to look after, but according to FitzD, both parents should be having three good, complex carb-rich meals, and two good complex carb-rich snacks a day.
“Complex carbs are really good for brain function, so straight after your baby comes is not a good time to be doing a diet that cuts out food groups,” she explains. “You need pasta, brown rice, whole meal bread and cereals, carby veg, like sweet potatoes, peas and sweetcorn.
“For snacks, try natural fruit sugars like having bowls of grapes.”
Read more: Mike Tindall opens up about male mental health and baby loss: ‘Everyone assumes having babies is easy’
Recognise that you have to make changes
Fit around the baby to keep yourself rested and in good mental health, FitzD suggests.
Support each other
If both partners are able to support each other and maintain their mental health and wellbeing then that relationship has a better chance of surviving the early baby years.
“A healthy relationship has really strong implications for the health and wellbeing of the baby going forward,” FitzD adds.
Seek help if you need it
Access everything that is available – health visitors, GPs, midwifes in the antenatal and the early postnatal period are all trained to watch out for, monitor and support women and their families through these days and to maintain good mental health.
The first port of call for any parents struggling with the mental health, both male or female, should be their GP.
For further help
Tommy’s: mental health before, during and after pregnancy.
The NHS website: postnatal depression.
PANDAS: Information and support for parents affected by perinatal mental illness
Support is also available through Mind and its Infoline on 0300 123 3393, or the NCT support line on 0300 330 0700.
Additional reporting PA.