On Maternal Mental Health Awareness Day (6 May), the NSPCC highlights rising concern that many new parents may be ‘suffering in silence’ during lockdown.

The Institute was pleased to support an NSPCC virtual roundtable looking at the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on new mothers’ mental health, and the risk of potential long-term consequences on babies’ health and development. The panel said their services had adapted to support parents digitally, but they shared concerns about the effect of the COVID-19 crisis on mothers and babies.

The NSPCC reported an increase of 28% in calls to its helpline about parental mental health in the first three weeks of lockdown.

Before the pandemic, up to one in five mothers and one in 10 fathers experienced perinatal mental health problems, the charity said.

Eileen O’Sullivan, a specialist health visitor in Warwickshire, said:

“Supporting mothers digitally can be challenging and there is a concern that some may be suffering in silence, too scared to share how they are really feeling over video.

“I am also seeing that my colleagues are being extra vigilant because we don’t want to miss anything.”

The NSPCC cited data from the Institute of Health Visiting, which found in some areas of England at least 50% of health visitors, including some from perinatal mental health and parent-infant teams, were redeployed into other health services in the initial period of the lockdown.

The NSPCC is urging the Government to ensure support is provided to parents as the country comes out of lockdown, and to come up with a plan to rebuild health visiting and perinatal services after the crisis.

Andrew Fellowes, public affairs manager at the NSPCC, said:

“At the NSPCC we know that, if undetected and untreated, perinatal mental health problems can have a devastating impact on women, partners and babies, both immediately but also long after the COVID-19 situation has passed.

“It is imperative that families continue to have access to services during the lockdown so that mental health problems can be identified and specialist support provided if needed.”

The iHV continues to support health visitors, our perinatal mental health champions and specialist health visitors in perinatal and infant mental health to deliver their services to families who may be adversely affected by the lockdown, particularly with respect to safeguarding and mental health issues. We have produced specific guidance to help which can be found in our COVID-19 (coronavirus) guidance for health professionals webpage: https://iHV.org.uk/COVID-19

The Institute of Health Visiting (iHV) was delighted to be invited to attend a virtual round table meeting about supporting new and expectant mothers with The Duchess of Cambridge this week to highlight the essential work and support that health visitors provide to new mothers.

The Duchess of Cambridge spoke with leading sector experts about the challenges and impact that COVID-19 is having on new and expectant mothers and their families ahead of the UK’s Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week (4-10 May).

• Top line L-R: Jessica Read, Deputy Chief Midwifery Officer for England, Julia McGinley, Head of Parent Support, Netmums (an inclusive online parenting community), Katie Massie-Taylor, Co-founder of Mush (an online community and app for mums)
• Second line L-R: Dr Edward Morris, President, The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RCOG), Dr Alain Gregoire, Chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, Dr Cheryll Adams CBE, Executive Director, Institute of Health Visiting

On this call, the group discussed key concerns that new and expectant parents had during this time, including apprehension about going into hospital and for community appointments, isolation, reduced support systems and increased anxiety. They also discussed a potential silver lining of lockdown being the increased presence of supportive partners, and new families being able to spend more time together with their newborns. The experts also spoke about the importance of community and emotional support for mothers which has been made more difficult by social distancing.

Dr Cheryll Adams CBE, Executive Director iHV, said:

“We want to get the message to families that the health visiting service is open, and we encourage all parents who would value some support to use their health visiting service when they need to.  Many areas now have advice lines that are manned throughout the day, in some cases into the evening.  If a health visitor isn’t immediately available a message can be left and one will ring back.”

Health visitors, alongside GPs, are the only health professionals who routinely see and support all families from pregnancy to when the youngest child goes to school.

The Duchess praised the resources developed by key institutions who are providing advice at this time saying:

“As organisations you’re playing such a vital role giving key information. You’re hugely trusted by the public and therefore the information you provide is a lifeline to a lot of people.”

The iHV has an area on their website for families which includes a section on Parenting through COVID-19. It can be found here: https://iHV.org.uk/ParentingCOVID19

The Institute of Health Visiting team would like to say thank you to every single health visitor and member of a health visiting team across the UK – we know that they are all going the extra mile to support the children and families in their areas. They are all heroes, our heroes.


More information about The Duchess’ meetings and round table call:

The Duchess took part in a call with midwives from Kingston Hospital last week and on Wednesday held a roundtable call with representatives from the sector including:

  • Dr Alain Gregoire, Chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance UK
  • Dr Eddie Morris, President, The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RCOG)
  • Dr Cheryll Adams CBE, Executive Director, Institute of Health Visiting
  • Jessica Read, Deputy Chief Midwifery Officer
  • Katie Massie-Taylor, Co-founder of Mush Mums (an online community and app for mums)
  • Julia McGinley, Head of Parent Support, Netmums (an inclusive online parenting community)