World Maternal Mental Health Awareness Day: Emphasising the importance of developing Ireland's first Mother and Baby Unit

HSE Press Release: Wednesday, 5th May 2021

Today (Wednesday 5th May 2021), the National Programme for Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Services marks World Maternal Mental Health Awareness Day by emphasising the importance of developing  a Mother and Baby Unit in Ireland.

A Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) is a specialist in-patient unit for women who have severe mental health problems, where the mother and baby can be admitted together. Specialist staff nurture and support the mother-infant relationship on the Unit at the same time as the mother has treatment for her mental illness.

The National Programme for Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Services is currently working towards Ireland’s first MBU, to be located in Dublin. The business plan for the MBU has been formed and funding needs to be secured.

The development of an MBU is in line with recommendations made in the Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Model of Care for Ireland  and the National Maternity Strategy.

Perinatal mental health (PMH) services are specialist services for women with a mental health problem. The service is for pregnant women, women with a baby up to one year old who may have an existing or new mental health problem and women with severe mental health problems who are planning a pregnancy. 

In the three years following the launch of the National Model of Care, a Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Team led by a perinatal psychiatrist is available in all 6 hub sites. Other multidisciplinary team members include psychologists, mental health social workers, CNSMH and perinatal mental health midwives. There are now 54 of the 67 funded posts in place in Hub sites and 12/13 perinatal mental health midwives in post in spoke sites. This year PFG funding was made available to the National Programme to continue the full recruitment of staff in all Hub sites.

“As a mother who suffers with mental health I think having an MBU will be a great thing. Being separated from your baby while there are voices in your head telling you your baby is in danger is absolutely terrifying.”

Danielle, a mum who experienced a postpartum psychosis.

“To have to separate a mother from her baby at such a key time for both is so difficult and potentially damaging to the long-term mental well-being of both. And because sometimes we have to admit women involuntarily, the forced separation is then very concerning.”

Professor Anthony McCarthy, Perinatal Psychiatrist, National Maternity Hospital.

"If my son was with me during my time in psychiatric care, I wouldn't have needed as long as a 6-month stay to recover, as well as two further years of intensive mental health support and parenting courses whilst trying to rebuild our entirely broken bond. It took five months after I returned for him to allow me to even physically comfort him again. This extended traumatic period of our lives as a family could have been completely prevented.”

Nicola, a mum who experienced severe post-natal depression.

“MBUs support the mother-infant relationship as well as stabilise maternal mental health. Crucially, they mean mothers and infants do not have to be separated when the mother becomes unwell, which is traumatic for women, their babies and their families. This is likely to exacerbate the woman's mental illness and potentially prolong their recovery.” 

Dr. Catherine Hinds, Perinatal Psychiatrist, Coombe Hospital.

1 in 5 women have mental health problems in pregnancy or after birth a specialist perinatal mental health service will usually look after someone who has a more serious or complex mental health problem. So, not every woman with a mental health problem during pregnancy or after their baby is born, will need this service. Women can get good care from their GP and public health nurse (PHN) for milder mental health problems in pregnancy and after birth. The specialist teams, perinatal mental health midwives and maternity services work jointly to ensure that all women attending the maternity service are routinely asked about their mental health as well as their physical health at booking clinics and are provided with information on mental health in pregnancy.

Expert advice and treatment is available through Specialist Perinatal Mental Health teams including perinatal mental health midwives who offer support and information to any woman who needs it during pregnancy and following birth. A number of information leaflets on specific mental health problems in pregnancy are available to download and are now also available to women and frontline health services to order in hard copy from HSE Health Promotion Publications. 

Specialist perinatal mental health teams continued to provide care for women throughout the Covid-19 pandemic in maternity hospitals. These included both Antenatal clinics and Maternity wards. However, they also added an additional option for women in the form of Video Enabled Care through Attend Anywhere. This has supported women to continue to receive interventions from their perinatal mental health service. For new mothers, it allows therapy to be provided in their own environment, without the constraints of travel or having to bring a newborn to an appointment. Video calls have provided a blended approach to linking patients with their clinicians; allowing accessibility for those who have limited transport links or cannot drive following a C-section.

For healthcare staff and particularly for those working with women in the perinatal period the PMH Information App hosts information on perinatal mental health disorders, how to access services as well as PMH training materials. To date, the PMH app has been downloaded by over 1,200 frontline healthcare professionals, the majority being midwives and public health nurses. Specific information was added for GPs following a collaboration with GP Buddy who developed a series of questions which were answered by Dr. Richard Duffy, Perinatal Psychiatrist, Rotunda Hospital. New video resources have also been added such as the SPMHS in the Rotunda’s Me to Mum videos and videos to raise awareness of women from the travelling community to perinatal mental health supports.

Additional Information:

Expert information on HSE Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Services



Last updated on: 05 / 05 / 2021