Parents’ mental health affected by neonatal care

By Julie Griffiths on 20 July 2018 Premature Birth Neonatal Care Postnatal Depression Maternal Mental health

New research reveals that 80% of parents whose babies were admitted into neonatal care think that their mental health suffered after their experience.

According to a survey of 589 parents conducted by baby charity Bliss, 35% of respondents reported that their mental health was ‘significantly worse’ after their neonatal experience, and 23% had been diagnosed with anxiety.

Following their time on the neonatal unit, 16% of parents surveyed were diagnosed with PTSD, 14% were diagnosed with postnatal depression, and 39% felt they had developed a mental health condition, although they were not officially diagnosed.

The survey also revealed the lack of support for new parents, with 62% reporting they had no access to formal psychological support (such as counselling or talking therapies) when they needed it while their baby was on the neonatal unit. 

Only 8% of parents surveyed felt like they received the right amount of formal psychological support while on the neonatal unit.

National standards for neonatal care across the UK indicate that all parents on neonatal units should have access to psychological and social support, including a trained counsellor. 

However, Bliss’ past research shows that no nation in the UK is reaching the national standards for psychological support in neonatal units.

Their previous research found that 41% of neonatal units in England said that parents had no access to a trained mental health worker. And 30% cent of neonatal units said parents had no psychological support at all.

In Wales 45% of neonatal units in Wales were not able to offer parents access to psychological support of any kind. And none of Wales’ three neonatal intensive care units (NICU) – which care for the country’s sickest babies – had a dedicated trained mental health worker working on the unit.

Past research has found that in Scotland, 12 out of 13 units have access to a trained mental health professional of some kind. However, access to these professionals is often inadequate to meet demand.

While in Northern Ireland, five out of seven neonatal units do not have dedicated access to a mental health professional. Northern Ireland’s only NICU does not offer any access to a mental health professional.

Bliss chief executive Caroline Lee-Davey said: ‘The shocking findings of our latest research demonstrate the vital need for better mental health support for parents while their baby is on the neonatal unit and beyond.

‘At present, none of the UK nations is reaching the national standard for providing psychological support to parents on units and our research demonstrates how detrimental this can be to parents’ health and wellbeing. Bliss calls for every UK government to ensure that mental health support is available to each parent who has a baby in neonatal care.’

Highlighting the pressures on parents of sick or premature babies, Good Morning Britain presenter Laura Tobin spoke yesterday (19 July) about her experience when her daughter was born three months early in 2017. 

Laura explained how the period following the birth of a premature baby can be very stressful. She has since helped to create a range of greeting cards for the parents of premature babies, who may be upset by the traditional ‘new baby’ cards’ images and messages because, she said, ‘it reminds them of what they are missing out on – a baby at home’.

Teaming up with card manufacturers Hallmark, Laura was part of a focus group of parents that have helped to create a set of four cards specifically for the parents of premature or sick babies. 

A donation of 20p from each card sold will go to Bliss.