Women with serious mental disorders can now access improved pregnancy support, thanks to the work of a new partnership.
The coalition of King’s College London, NHS England, Public Health England, and UK pregnancy charity Tommy's, has created resources aimed at helping women with serious mental illness (SMI) make educated decisions about pregnancy, including timing their pregnancy and undergoing treatment.
Around 550,000 people in the UK have an SMI that significantly impairs their daily living, many of whom are women trying to conceive or may be at risk of having an unplanned pregnancy.
SMI includes conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder, all of which can increase a woman's risk of developing poor physical and mental health both during and after pregnancy.
Women with SMI for example are highly likely to be diagnosed with postpartum psychosis – a serious mental health issue that can consist of extreme mood swings and hallucinations.
As part of the new coalition, Tommy's, a charity that funds research into pregnancy problems and provides information for parents, now hosts resources specifically for women with SMI.
Tommy’s has also updated its planning for pregnancy tool, which offers advice to women in the preconception stage.
“Women with SMI have some of the worst pregnancy outcomes and are often overlooked in traditional pregnancy information, leaving them struggling for advice and support,” says Tommy’s CEO, Jane Brewin. "We are delighted to have been involved in this project to develop targeted guidance for them so they can better plan for a healthy pregnancy."
As 20% of new and expectant mums are affected by mental illness, providing support to those who suffer from SMI before pregnancy is vital.
Studies have shown that up to 90% of women with SMI may stop taking medication for their condition when they discover they are pregnant or when they stop using contraception.
This can have serious implications as a woman could be at risk of relapse during and after the pregnancy, putting both mother and baby at risk.
Professor Louise Howard of King's College London emphasised the importance of the new materials: "I’m delighted that we have been able to produce these resources for women and healthcare professionals to support women with serious mental illness in planning for pregnancy.
“This will mean that women can be ready both physically and mentally for pregnancy and when getting to know their new baby and reduce the risk of physical and mental health complications."
Written by Megan Robinson
News reporter for Talking Mental Health