Consultant Perinatal and Liaison Psychiatrist Dr Zeyn Green-Thompson has reflected on the impact the pandemic has had on the mental health of mothers and their babies in response to the theme of this year’s World Patient Safety Day, “safe maternal and newborn care”.
Zeyn explained that a reduction in face-to-face contact during lockdown had made some mental health conditions or incidents of abuse more difficult to spot. Yet it also brought benefits, such as increasing the amount of time some parents could spend with their newborns by virtue of home working or furlough and encouraging professionals to use video technology to help patients remotely.
“The social aspect of babies’ development has been hit hard by COVID-19 and the lockdowns, as some normal social activities which would take place during the first year simply haven’t happened,” said Zeyn. “Similarly, parents have had to do everything alone and have been unable to share milestones such as first steps, which has been difficult for families.
“On the other hand, some children will have benefitted from much more one-to-one parental contact than would otherwise have been possible as a direct result of lockdown. I hope that in future this means society will be much more flexible about allowing people to work from home more often so that families can enjoy more quality time together.”
NSFT offers a range of specialist mental health services for mothers and babies, including Perinatal Community Mental Health Services in both Norfolk and Suffolk.
They also run the Kingfisher Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) in Norwich, which is the only MBU in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk or Suffolk and allows mothers with serious mental health problems to receive inpatient care without being separated from their baby.
“The number of referrals which MBUs across the country received dropped significantly last year as health professionals weren’t able to see as many women face-to-face,” added Zeyn. “From a patient safety point of view, this has reinforced to us just how important it is for some interactions to take place in person rather than online or via a video call, as you can tell much more than you can remotely.
“However, the pendulum has now swung the other way and demand for MBU beds has increased significantly. Staff have coped admirably and have adapted to handling complex conditions effectively within the community, but we know that people are tired and would encourage them to look after their own wellbeing to help them continue to do their best for their patients.
“Finally, I think it is important for us to remind parents not to put too much pressure on themselves by looking for perfection. Children are resilient and can sense and will respond well if one is a loving and reliable parent. Parents can focus on enjoying the experience of parenthood and getting advice if needed but being more forgiving of themselves.”