Maternal Mental Health Service

The Maternal Mental Health Service provides assessment and psychological interventions to women or birthing parent who experience moderate to severe mental health conditions relating to the maternity experience, focussing on birth trauma, fear of child birth (tokophobia) or baby loss.

Support we can provide

Pregnancy after loss

Pregnancy after loss

During Baby Loss Awareness Week (9-15 October) the Maternal Mental Health service and bereavement Midwives came together to talk about baby loss and share information about the support that is available.

The Maternal Mental Health team discusses pregnancy after loss:

Understanding bereavement and loss

Understanding bereavement and loss

Some families lose their baby during pregnancy, birth or shortly afterwards. For many people, grief comes in stages as a cycle. Grieving is unique to each person and individual's may experience this in different ways.

Dr Kirsty Harris discusses bereavement around baby loss:

W hen it is important to seek help 

Grieving is a normal reaction to a loss. Even after a long period of time we learn to manage our feelings that come with grieving. However, some people need support with their mental health when: 

  • The symptoms of grief feel continuous and become harder to cope with over time. 
  • Feelings of grief become so intense and overwhelming that they significantly impact your day-to-day living
  • Experiencing symptoms including PTSD and /or severe depression.

How we can help

The service will carry out an assessment to explore whether your grieving process is linked to a mental health condition such as PTSD or depression. We will consider all options to ensure you receive support that is tailored to your needs. 

Types of therapy you may be offered include:

  • Individual therapy
  • A ‘Family and Friends’ session - Your partner and family members may also have difficulty processing their grief. They may find it hard to understand and need help dealing with their distress as well as yours.
  • Peer support work- this will involve receiving support and simply talking to someone who may have had a similar experience to you.
  • Group Therapy - this is delivered in a group offering a range of methods and the opportunity to meet other people with similar needs and experiences to you.

We will also ensure you are aware of other support organisations that are appropriate for you.

Understanding birth trauma

Understanding birth trauma

Birth trauma is a short phrase for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after childbirth. It can also affect people who have some symptoms of PTSD, but not enough for a full diagnosis.

33% of people describe their perinatal experience as traumatic. About 1-3% of women develop symptoms birth-related PTSD.  Some partners may also suffer PTSD from a traumatic birth.

Trauma is individual and for this reason, the same situation can affect people differently.

The Maternal Mental Health service talk about birth trauma and the impact this can have:

What you may be experiencing

If you’ve had a traumatic birth you may have felt scared, helplessness, out of control, or powerless at the time. Following the birth, you may experience the following:

  • Re-experiencing the traumatic event- through flashbacks, nightmares or intrusive memories. This can feel very distressing.
  • Avoidance- efforts to avoid anything that reminds you of the trauma. This can mean refusing to walk past the hospital where you gave birth, or avoiding meeting other people with new babies. You might also avoid things like talking about birth, TV shows about birth, hospitals or medical visits
  • Feeling on edge- constantly feeling alert and jumpy. You may also have difficulty focusing on things or getting to sleep.
  • Difficult feelings and beliefs- feeling low, unsafe, anger, shame or guilt. You may feel guilty and blame yourself for your traumatic birth. You may also have feelings of shock and disbelief, failure, fear of something happening to you or baby, extreme exhaustion, depression, rage, suicidal thoughts, feelings of detachment, or emptiness.

How we can help

Birth trauma may resolve on its own or you may need some help with this. Psychological therapy can help with this. Once the referral is accepted by the service, an assessment will be completed. The clinician will then work with you to build a plan that suits your needs.

Types of therapy you may be offered include:

  • Trauma-focused CBT (Cognitive behavioural therapy) and/or EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing)- these are one-to-one therapy to help you to understand your experience, help you to feel safe and then help with processing the memories of the birth so that it can be thought about without causing distress.
  • A ‘Family and Friends’ session - often a partner or family member may have witnessed or also experienced your birth experience and its impact. They may find it hard to understand and need help with theirs and your distress.
  • Peer support work- this will involve getting support and simply talking to someone who may have had a similar experience to you in the past.
  • Trauma Stabilisation Group - this is a group therapy offering a range of methods, psychoeducation, and the opportunity to meet other women with similar needs and experiences to you.

Understanding fear of child birth

Understanding fear of child birth

Fear of childbirth or pregnancy is also known as tokophobia. It is a severe fear that can emerge even if a woman or birthing parent desires to have a baby. The fear can be present even where a woman or birthing parent has never given birth before or as is more common, where they have previously given birth, but had a previous traumatic experience of childbirth. This fear can significantly impact the overall pregnancy experience.

Dr Kirsty Harris discusses tokophobia (fear of child birth)

How we can help

There are many possible causes as to why this fear has developed and a number of different ways we can support you with this. Where a referral has been accepted by the service, following a assessment, an appropriate type of care will be taken and this can include:

  • Online webinars 
  • Individual therapy
  • A meeting with you, a psychologist or therapist and a specialist midwife to explain the full carre plan and make a plan tailored to your needs.
  • Organising a visit to the labour ward and/or meet the matron, if this would help alleviate your anxiety.
  • Education group about tokophobia. This will help you understand your fear of childbirth, develop helpful methods and meet other people with similar fears or experiences to you.