Study Shows Need for Better Care for Pregnant Women with Mental Health Issues

10th December 2014

Experts have said that imperative action is necessary for expecting mothers who have pre-existing mental and medical health problems. A recent study has revealed that despite an overall decrease in maternal deaths, the death rate amongst these women has stayed constant.

Between 2010 and 2012, there were 321 maternal deaths (deaths that occurred either during pregnancy or up to 6 weeks after giving birth). A study carried out by Oxford University's National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, this is equal to 10.1 per 100,000 pregnant women, in comparison with 11.4 per 100,000 between 2006 and 2008.

However, this reduction was motivated by a decrease in 'direct deaths' caused by difficulties such as blood clots, blood loss and eclampsia, which have fallen by half within the last decade. The amount of deaths from 'indirect causes' (worsened but not necessarily caused by pregnancy), such as flu, heart-disease and suicide, has broadly remained constant at just below 7 per 100,000.

The researchers found that over two thirds of mothers-to-be did not have access to the recommended antenatal care, and ¼ didn't receive the minimum level of care. This led the researchers to the conclusion that indirectly caused maternal deaths are still not being efficiently addressed.

Leader of the study, Professor Marian Knight, said that above all, there is a necessity for a concentrated effort on all parts to improve care for pregnant women with mental health issues before, during and after their pregnancy.

Authors of the research also said that well-timed recognition of problems, precise diagnosis, contribution of the appropriate member of senior staff and punctual treatment could actually make a life-saving difference. They recommend that pregnant women attend joint specialist and maternity appointments, to develop communication and increase convenience.

Knight has also advised pregnant women with pre-existing conditions to continue taking their medicine unless professionally advised by a professional, as stopping could cause potential harm to the unborn child.

This warning comes shortly after the death of Charlotte Bevan, who left the Bristol hospital she gave birth in and was found later in Avon gorge, on a cliff face. An investigation into her care has been launched, which will look at the possibility that she reduced her medication in order to breastfeed her baby.

Deaths from psychiatric causes only accounted for a small percentage of overall maternal deaths. However, the research studied deaths up to 6 weeks after giving birth, and 95 of the 419 'late' maternal deaths across the 3 years were a result of psychiatric causes.