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Antenatal screening and early-intervention: A mental health update from the NSPCC

02 June 2015
Volume 23 · Issue 6


The NSPCC is dedicated to perinatal wellbeing and advocating for a preventative model of care that has the potential to improve the mental health for parents, families and communities. Here in the first of two articles, Camilla Sanger, Alice Haynes, Gary Mountain and Naomi Bonett-Healy provide an update of antenatal mental health research and recommended practice, with a specific focus on the role midwives can play in screening and identifying mental health problems.

For both mothers and fathers, pregnancy and the birth of a baby are periods of transition and changing roles, and it is a life-stage that is widely acknowledged as a time of heightened stress for new parents (Hock et al, 1995). Parental mental health difficulties during the perinatal period are a particular cause for concern because this is a sensitive time for children, when substantial neural, cognitive and socioemotional developments occur (Talge et al, 2007). Fortunately, the perinatal period is also a time when parents report being open to support and when expectant mothers receive a particularly high number of health-care appointments and professional contact, making it a key opportunity to identify difficulties and signpost families to early intervention programmes and support.

Antenatal mental health difficulties can include conditions which manifest during pregnancy as well as pre-existing conditions that may relapse or recur in the perinatal time-frame. Perinatal disorders can range from mild depression and anxiety, to florid psychosis, and everything in between. Mental health difficulties during the perinatal period affect between 10–20% of women (Bauer et al, 2014). While there is a tendency to associate mental health difficulties during this time with the period after birth, many women will also experience mental health difficulties during pregnancy. Research suggests that mental health difficulties may be more common in pregnancy than after birth (Heron et al, 2004).

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