Katie, mother of twoBradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust and mother of two, Katie, are encouraging mums to seek support during Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, 29 April – 5 May 2024. The week is a reminder of the mental health challenges many mothers face before, during and after pregnancy.

Whilst motherhood is often associated with joy and fulfilment, it can also bring about significant stress, anxiety, and depression. Postpartum depression and anxiety affect up to one in five new mothers. Additionally, factors such as sleep deprivation, hormonal changes, financial stress, and lack of support can add to these issues.

Bright, cheerful and positive, thirty-three-year-old Katie welcomed Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 19, a mental health condition that affects moods swinging from one extreme to another. Katie was offered mood stabilising medication, however this impacted on her future dream of becoming a mother as the medication wasn’t safe during pregnancy. Katie reached out to services and had an informative appointment to discuss her various options and the alternative medications available. In 2020, during Covid-19, she gave birth to her first child. Due to bipolar disorder, Katie was at a higher risk of postpartum psychosis and depression and sought help from the Care Trust’s Specialist Mother and Baby Mental Health service (SMABS), during both her pregnancies. Katie credits the care she received with making a real difference to her emotional wellbeing. She is now using her own experience to encourage other mums to get support.

Katie said: “When my first little boy was born, it was Covid, so it wasn’t the best time to have a baby and it was a difficult time due to other external pressures. My partner and family were concerned about me being at risk of developing postpartum depression and psychosis so it really was a worrying and stressful time on top of just becoming a new mum.

“Some of the advice I got was really simple, ‘accept help when people offer’. At the start I thought, no, other people can do this, so why can’t I? For example, my friend came over recently to see my new baby and asked if she could do anything to help. I was able to go have a shower and wash my hair knowing that my two boys were being well looked after. Sometimes it’s those basic, self-care things that often get pushed aside but actually make you feel loads better and I’m finding I am accepting help more.

“Having family and friends around to help and support me is amazing, I can’t thank them enough. Although sometimes it’s been nice to have support from someone who isn’t family, like my wonderful SMABS care coordinators. They are able to reassure you that some of the intrusive thoughts you experience are very “normal” for new mums and not necessarily a sign of postpartum depression. For example, in those early weeks it’s common to feel like you are not bonding with your baby as much as you’d like to, but rather than worrying that by saying that out loud you are at risk of having your baby taken away, the SMABS team discuss these thoughts with you and provide reassurance and ways to help. The care I received was really nurturing and personalised to meet my needs. My partner and my family have always been encouraged to be involved in my care and have known that they can reach out to the SMABS team too if they have any concerns or questions. I have always thought that when the care coordinators come to see us at home it has felt really relaxed, like another friend or family member visiting, not clinical or formal, which helps when you might already be feeling a bit anxious. My SMABS doctor would ring me regularly to see how I was and to tell me how my blood test results were and whether any alterations were needed with my medication. There were also online video meetings scheduled with various doctors, obstetricians, my community midwife and the SMABS team to go through my care plan in detail to make sure everything during my pregnancies could go as smoothly as possible. I feel really lucky and forever grateful for how good the service is, it feels like extra support, but it doesn’t feel intrusive.”

Dr Lisa Milne, Clinical Lead of Specialist Mother and Baby Mental Health Service at Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust said: “We’re delighted to get behind Maternal Mental Health Week and encourage mums like Katie to seek support.  One of the biggest barriers to maternal mental health support is the stigma surrounding mental health challenges. Many mothers feel ashamed or embarrassed to admit they’re struggling, fearing judgment or criticism as pregnancy and childbirth can trigger a range of emotions, from excitement to apprehension. However, for some mothers, these experiences can also lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, sadness, or even hopelessness. By normalising discussions about maternal mental health, we are encouraging more mothers to seek help with an issue that can affect many new mums.”

To find out more about the Trust’s Specialist Mother and Baby Mental Health service, which offers short-term treatment to support women at risk of experiencing severe mental health problems during pregnancy and after birth, visit:  www.bdct.nhs.uk/services/specialist-mother-baby-mental-health-service/

Parent-infant relationships are vital for children’s development to ensure babies and infants develop physically and mentally.  To find out more about how parents can become more attuned to the needs of their infants and the importance of healthy social and emotional development, visit: www.readytorelate.bdct.nhs.uk

For wellbeing tips and support, visit  Bradford and Craven Talking Therapies. The service is open to anyone over the age of 16 who is registered with a GP in Bradford, Wharfedale, Airedale or Craven. People don’t have to go through their GP to access support, they can register online at: www.bdctalkingtherapies.nhs.uk

Visit Healthy Minds website to find mental health information, advice and support for people of all ages in Bradford, Airedale, Wharfedale and Craven.