Every year 80,000 babies are born in the UK requiring specialist neonatal intensive care.
Few parents anticipate this traumatic start to parenthood and the journey through neonatal care is often one of uncertainly, pain and loss. Thrown into a world where incubators house the most fragile of babies, where rows of medical devises beep and alarm and where life support machines offer hope, it is no wonder that parents describe this journey as an emotional roller-coaster ride.
“You must have been so strong” I was told after bringing my premature baby home after 2 months in neonatal care. The truth is I wasn’t strong, I did what I had to do; and now that I was finally home with my baby I was emotionally shattered.
Studies suggest that 40% of mothers experience post-natal depression (PND) following NICU (compared to 5-10% of mothers delivering healthy babies at full term) and that more than half experience symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD). Any yet, each year, thousands of women are let down by the primary health care provision they receive.
General Practitioners and Health Visitors, those who meet mothers in the first few weeks after baby comes home, are in a unique position to make a difference. They must have the skills, knowledge and understanding however, to identify parents in need following neonatal care.
The Smallest Things, campaigning for premature babies and beyond, therefore calls upon The Nursing and Midwifery Council, The Institute of Health Visiting, and the Royal College of General Practitioners to ensure that their members are fully trained to recognise and act upon the specific mental health needs of parents following NICU.
With 4 out of 10 mothers experiencing PND after NICU it is vital that maternal mental health is taken seriously and that appropriate support and timely onward referrals to community mental health teams where needed are made without delay.