NICE updates mental health guidelines for pregnant women and new mothers

More good news from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

They’ve updated their guidelines on caring for women with mental health problems, either during pregnancy or after their baby has been born.

The guidelines are partly aimed at identifying pregnant women who are at risk of mental health problems – usually women who have suffered depression or other mental illnesses in the past – and to give them some advice on how pregnancy or birth might affect their condition.

For the first time, the guidelines state that clinicians should offer women who are suffering from PTSD after birth either trauma-focused cognitive-based therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR). This is in line with NICE’s own guidelines on treating people with PTSD.

This is hugely welcome. Currently PTSD after birth often goes undiagnosed, or wrongly diagnosed as postnatal depression. Or if it is diagnosed, women may be given inappropriate treatment (such as ordinary counselling rather than trauma-focused CBT) or be expected to wait months for the right treatment.

Whether a new guideline from NICE will change anything, it’s hard to say. Mental health services, as has been pointed out many times, suffer from underfunding and there aren’t currently enough NHS CBT therapists (and almost certainly not enough EMDR therapists) to treat everyone who needs them.

But a first step to changing a problem is recognising it exists. By acknowledging that some women suffer PTSD after birth, and recommending that they be treated, NICE is at least creating an environment in which birth trauma stands a chance of being taken seriously.

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