Pregnant women need more mental health support says RCM

on 19 January 2021 Midwifery Funding Maternity Safety Safety Maternal Mental health Perinatal Mental Health Postnatal Care Postnatal Depression Wellbeing Of Women BAME BAME MSWs - Maternity Support Workers Midwives

More investment and training are needed to enable midwives and maternity support workers (MSW) to offer better mental health support for women throughout pregnancy and postnatally, says the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) publishing updated guidance for maternity staff.

As many as a fifth of new and expectant mothers are likely to experience some form of mental health problems, and at least half of women are not able to access the help and support they need.

The RCM says that barriers such as women fearing that they may be judged as being unable to look after their baby, or not recognising that they need help, poor service provision must be reduced so that women get the support they often desperately need.

Gill Walton, Chief Executive of the RCM, said: “Putting the right measure in place to support women who are pregnant or have recently given birth is more important now than ever because we know women’s emotional wellbeing has been significantly impacted by the pandemic. We must get to a point where the mental health care of women is given parity with their physical health. There have undoubtedly been improvements, but we are still a long way short of this. We must give midwives and maternity support workers the resources and training they need so they can provide women with the support they need.

“This is also about the health and wellbeing of babies. If we can support pregnant and postnatal women with mental health problems, this will have an impact on their relationship with their baby and how well they are able to care for them. This will pay dividends for the baby’s own mental health and development now and into the future.”

Sandra Igwe, founder of The Motherhood Group, said: “As a mother that had undiagnosed postnatal anxiety and depression, I was ashamed, fearful and scared to speak out about my depression. My life had dramatically changed, and I didn’t feel like I had the support and the community I needed. That feeling of isolation was made worse due to a lack of understanding from those that were present.  

“Black women are the group least likely to initiate treatment for postnatal mental illness, and the least likely to receive follow-up treatment. And this racial disparity is putting the lives of black mothers at risk. There is so much work to do around building trust from black mothers, so they can have the courage to ask for help when needed. Breaking down barriers that make it extra difficult for black women to access support is incredibly important if we want to see change, also funding safe spaces for black mothers is equally as necessary.”

Aimed at midwives and MSWs, the guidance published today by the RCM highlights the key role they play in supporting women’s emotional wellbeing, along with that of their partners and wider family. It also recognises that increased efforts are needed to improve care inside the NHS including resources and training, but also outside the NHS to tackle issues such as domestic abuse, which have an impact on women’s emotional wellbeing and mental health.

Dr Alain Gregoire, Honorary President, Maternal Mental Health Alliance UK, said: “This guidance from the Royal College of Midwives provides valuable, focussed, clinically relevant and evidence-based information and advice on the inextricably linked issues of maternal mental health, the parent-baby relationship, and infant development.

“Mental illness is the most common serious health complication associated with pregnancy and early motherhood. If it goes unrecognised and untreated, it can have a devastating impact on the women affected and their families. Midwives play a critical role in reducing this human suffering through their interactions with pregnant women, new mums and their families, and by facilitating better support and care from others. This guidance will support midwives in this complex but invaluable task.”

The publication was launched yesterday at an online event chaired by Gill Walton, alongside Alan Gregiore and a number of expert speakers including Sandra Igwe quoted above.


Notes to editors

The full guidance ‘Parental Emotional Wellbeing and Infant Development’ can be read at Publications (

Watch the online launch event in full at

The RCM is the only trade union and professional association dedicated to serving midwifery and the whole midwifery team. We provide workplace advice and support, professional and clinical guidance, and information, and learning opportunities with our broad range of events, conferences, and online resources. For more information visit the RCM website at

For information on Sandra Igwe and the Motherhood Group visit b: &, Instagram: @themotherhoodgroup, Twitter: @motherhoodgroup.

For information on the Maternal Mental Health Alliance visit