Supporting mums through postpartum psychosis

Chief Nurse Jane Clegg visits the Mother and Baby Unit at Homerton Hospital to find out more about how they care for mothers, babies and their families following a mental illness in the days after childbirth.

“After dark clouds pass, a beautiful rainbow will appear.”

This is just one of the touching reflections I recently read at a special in-patient unit that cares for mothers with severe mental health difficulties during and after pregnancy. 10–20% of women experience mental health issues while pregnancy or postnatally, but a small number will experience a severe and sudden episode of mental illness in the days following childbirth, and will need specialist care.

As part of our mental health month I visited the Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) based at the Homerton Hospital, which is led by Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Olivia Protti and Modern Matron, Justine Cawley.

The Unit helps around 70 mums each year with an individualised care plan providing support and encouragement through a multidisciplinary approach. For an average of seven weeks, they are offered one-to-one assistance to support the mother-infant and parent-infant relationship, and receive guidance around the care of their baby. The Unit also actively encourages the involvement of partners, family members and friends in the recovery process.

Commissioned by NHS England (London) and provided by East London NHS Foundation Trust, the MBU team consists of specialist mental health nurses, nursery nurses, social therapists, a social worker and a life skills recovery worker. Mums can also benefit from therapy with a psychologist, occupational therapist, parent-infant psychotherapist, art therapist and dance movement therapist, as well as a specialist pharmacist. Regular reviews are conducted by medical staff, and a mother’s weekly programme will include sessions on adjusting to motherhood and mindfulness, and cooking.

It was wonderful to hear from two former patients, Parminder and Jessica, how the Unit provided a safe environment for them to get better. Despite her bumpy start into motherhood, Jessica said the support and love she received in the Unit made her think that perhaps she had actually had a better start than most. Both had never heard of postpartum psychosis before it happened to them, and they stressed the importance of making sure more women know it isn’t always just the ‘baby blues’ and that help is available. They both felt the stigma around mental health problems still exists and both are committed to talking more about their experiences to help other women.

Thankfully, the issue is gaining more momentum and has been highlighted recently on Eastenders. The MBU team were involved in the developing the storyline on postpartum psychosis, helping to ensure an accurate portrayal of the illness. You can read a blog about their experiences here.

I chatted with the staff afterwards, and they all told me how rewarding it is to work at the Unit and that the best thing is seeing the difference they make for the mums and babies. Watching the staff interact with the mums and their babies really showed me how much they care and it makes me proud that London is host to such a wonderful service.”

Jane Clegg is Acting Chief Nurse for NHS England (London). In this role she leads a team that is focused on assuring and improving the quality of health care across London, working in partnership with healthcare commissioners, providers and regulators. She provides nursing and midwifery advice and support to ensure that care, compassion and a positive patient experience are at the heart of the NHS.

Jane is an experiences nurse, manager and leader. She has spent most of her career in London, in Board level positions since 2002. Jane is committed to involving patients, service users, the public and nurses in the development and improvement of health services as well as making high quality, integrated, person-centred community based services a reality. You can follow her on twitter at @janejaneclegg.

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