Your healthcare team
There are lots of different health care professionals that you will meet during your pregnancy and after your baby is born, including:
General Practitioners (GPs) are qualified doctors based in local surgeries. They focus on your overall health including physical, psychological and social aspects of your care. They will treat all common medical conditions and refer you to hospital or other specialist services if needed.
Midwives (MWs) are registered health care professionals offering care to the family during pregnancy, labour and birth and up to 28 days after the baby has been born. They can be based in the hospital or in the community and sometimes work in teams that provide continuity of care throughout the whole of your pregnancy and birth. If you have special health needs, your midwife or GP will refer you to a doctor, called an obstetrician, who is trained to deal with specific problems in pregnancy.
Independent midwives work outside the NHS. Doulas and birth companions are not trained midwives but can provide support to you during pregnancy, birth and after your baby is born.
Health visitors (HVs) are registered nurses or midwives that have undertaken additional training in community public health nursing. They work with families offering support and advice during pregnancy and after the baby is born. Health visitors lead the Healthy Child Programme which is a series of health and development reviews to support you and your baby.
This is a way of supporting your health and developing healthy behaviours to ensure the best possible outcome for you and your baby. If you have concerns regarding your physical or mental health prior to planning a pregnancy, you should speak to your GP who can offer advice or refer you to a specialist, if needed.
Starting your care
When you first find out you are pregnant you can book an appointment directly with a midwife, or with your GP, to get all the information you need to have a healthy pregnancy. This might include advice about starting folic acid supplements or help to stop smoking. Your GP surgery can advise you how to contact your local midwifery service.
Your antenatal care
Antenatal care is the care you receive from health professionals during your pregnancy. You will usually have an initial appointment with a midwife who will ask you lots of questions about your health, your family’s health and what support you have around you. You will have time to sensitively discuss any concerns you may have about your mental health, social care support or issues such as domestic abuse or substance use.
Your midwife will check your blood pressure, test your urine and organise early pregnancy blood tests and screening tests which will help to plan the rest of your care.
Visit the NHS website for further information about all your antenatal appointments, blood tests and scans.
Your emotional wellbeing during pregnancy
Having a baby is a significant life event.
Lots of parents find that they experience a whole range of emotions during pregnancy and after having a baby. You may be feeling happy, sad, tired or tearful, or sometimes just can’t describe how you are feeling. You may be worried about becoming a parent and wonder how relationships in the family might change.
This could be linked to thoughts of your own childhood or your family situation. Many of these feelings are mild and will resolve with time, but sometimes these can be difficult and start to have an effect on day-to-day life. It may be that you are experiencing a ‘perinatal’ mental health problem which just means that it is happening ‘around’ the time of birth. It may be a new mental health problem, or something that you’ve experienced in the past that is happening again. It’s important that you speak to your GP, midwife or health visitor to let them know how you are feeling so that they can find the right support for you.
You might find it helpful to connect with other expectant or new parents to share your experiences. There are lots of voluntary organisations and charities such as MIND that offer support.
Your local Children’s Centre or Children and Family Hub also provides family health and support services and can help to signpost you to groups and activities that are happening in your area. Each local area may have different resources. You can find out more by contacting your local council.
Your GP may prescribe medication to help with your mood or suggest that you try a talking therapy like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). You can also refer yourself. Your midwife or health visitor may offer additional appointments to help you talk about anything you are worried about.
If you’ve had serious mental health problems in the past, or you find that things are getting worse, your health professional may make a referral to a specialist perinatal mental health team. The team includes specialist mental health professionals working in various disciplines including nurses and doctors who will offer you regular assessments, medication advice and support to plan your birth. Your midwife, health visitor and GP will work closely with the specialist team so you are supported and informed throughout your pregnancy and after birth. Specialist hospital wards called Mother and Baby Units (MBUs) may also be available if you need to have more intensive treatment and care or support with bonding with your baby.
It’s ok to ask for help
Mental health symptoms can change a lot from day to day so it may be hard for your doctor or health visitor to understand exactly what you are feeling. This means you may need to ask a few times to get the right support. Often parents find this really hard -but please do keep talking to your healthcare professional so you get the help you need.
Sometimes parents worry that their baby will be taken from them if they admit that they are having mental health problems. It is very rare for parents to be separated from their children for this reason and there is lots of support available to help you ensuring this doesn’t need to happen.
It’s always okay to ask for help even if you’re not sure what you are experiencing. Talking to someone will help you take the steps needed to keep you and your family well.
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