Therapy can help – and it should be available to every new mother who needs it

The children’s author Louisa Leaman has an excellent piece in the Guardian about how cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helped her recover from a traumatic birth. Louisa’s experience sounds harrowing:

“A diagnosis of placenta previa major – a serious obstetric complication – meant that by the time Emil was delivered via emergency C-section I’d had 14 haemorrhages, three blue-light ambulance rides, four blood transfusions, five weeks in hospital and two months of bed rest.”

Both she and her baby, she was told, could have died.

It’s not surprising that, after such an awful experience, she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What’s encouraging about Louisa’s story, however, is that she lived in a part of London where new mothers with mental health problems are referred to therapy, and she was lucky enough to see an NHS therapist specialising in CBT. After 10 sessions – at which Louisa was allowed to bring her baby – she felt much better. As she puts it: “No more flashbacks. No more crazy paranoia. No more guilt.”

So many of the stories from women who have suffered a traumatic birth are ones where there is no resolution, no happy ending. Some women live in parts of the country where there is no automatic referral to a therapist of any kind, let alone one who specialises in perinatal health. Women offer suffer symptoms – those flashbacks, that paranoia – for years. Louisa’s story shows that it doesn’t have to be like that: good therapy from a sympathetic, qualified therapist can work wonders.

Which is why we must hope that David Cameron follows through on his promise to provide specialist psychological support for women who suffer mental health problems related to giving birth. At the moment, it’s not clear what this support will involve, nor where the money is going to come from. But there’s absolutely no doubt that it’s needed. As Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, is quoted as saying in the Guardian report:

“At the moment about 40,000 women who are pregnant or within the first year of having their baby have a severe mental health problem. But of those 40,000 only about 10,000 are at the moment getting access to specialist perinatal mental health services. Three out of four are missing out. But by the end of the decade we are going to make that a universal offer, so all 40,000 will get access to a local specialist team.”

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