World Maternal Mental Health Day: Our Mother and Baby Unit

World Maternal Mental Health Day takes place on Wednesday 2 May. At SLaM we offer a range of services for women who experience mental health problems during and after pregnancy. Our Mother and Baby Unit at Bethlem Royal Hospital is the largest in England, with women referred from all over the country.

We hear from Clinical Service Lead Debbie Griffin and Clinical Support Worker Holly Dawson about their experiences working on the Unit.

Holly Dawson, Clinical Support Worker


I am a clinical support worker on the Mother and Baby Unit at Bethlem Hospital. I’ve worked here for almost a year.

My role varies a lot and that’s one of the things I love about it. I go with the mums to their GP appointments and to register the birth of their babies. I spend time with them in the unit’s nursery, helping them to form a bond with their baby and developing care plans with them one-to-one to help their mental health.

It’s rewarding to see the journeys the mums go through. They are quite unwell when they come to hospital, struggling with their confidence in how they look after their baby. After they spend time with us, their confidence grows. You can see the relationship with their babies grow and their confidence and mental health improve.

I take most pride in teamwork. We are a multidisciplinary team and I work closely with nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, and clinical and developmental psychologists all based on the ward. I also work with health visitors and midwives who visit the ward. All mothers are treated holistically; every aspect of their life is treated with equal importance. It’s not just about their mental health. This means we can focus on what matters to them, not just what matters to us. When they leave the unit, they are able to move on their lives.

My work is in an inpatient setting with acutely unwell mums. However, their experiences and the problems they face reflect those faced by the vast majority of mothers. It’s a universal experience as a mother to feel lost and worry about doing the wrong thing. In particular for first-time mums, their life becomes completely unrecognisable. It can be hard to discover and come to terms with their new identity.

There’s no shame in feeling those kinds of things; there’s enormous pressure to be overjoyed all the time as a new mum. It’s a great strength to be able to express worries and find support. Go to your GP, talk to professionals like health visitors, look online for resources. There are apps – for example Baby Buddy – which was developed with Dr Trudi Seneviratne at the Unit. This is interactive with lots of information and support.  

I really love working for the NHS. I’m so proud of the fact that we’re here for everybody. We have mums come to the Unit from all backgrounds, across the country and those who have come here from overseas. Everyone’s welcome and everyone belongs. There is a sense of camaraderie, belonging and team spirit on the Unit.

Debbie Griffin, Clinical Service Lead

Debbie 2

I am the ward manager and clinical service lead for the Unit with additional responsibility for service development and improvement. I’ve been a mental health nurse since 1986 and have worked for the Trust since 1997.

During my time at SLaM I have worked within perinatal mental health for almost 14 years, including three years in a community team and almost 11 years on the Unit. I’ve also worked on a CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) ward.

I’m passionate about maternal mental health. I did a lot of my professional learning on the unit. It’s a special place and there is nowhere quite like it. I love my job and feel really privileged to be part of a fantastic team - they are totally dedicated to the work they do.

Early intervention is so important and vital to improve the outcomes for both mother and baby. Untreated maternal mental illness can have an impact on children. During my time working in CAMHS I saw children whose mother’s mental health issues were not adequately addressed and this had a negative impact on their children’s emotional wellbeing, resilience and at times, mental health.

The really special thing about our work on the unit is that you see women get better and stay better. We can help reduce the risk that women become ill again, by giving them timely support and treatment which can include psychological therapies and medication. We also support partners, siblings and the extended family.

Everyone thinks pregnancy and early motherhood is a happy time but for a lot of women it’s not. We play an important part in helping women to access support they haven’t been able to access before. It’s about much more than prescribing medication.  We work using a very holistic model with a focus on the mother and baby relationship as well as the mother’s mental health.  

It’s exciting that our unit has recently won NHS England funding for specialist training in DBT (dialectical behaviour therapy) This training is for staff across all grades and disciplines, and means we’ll be able to provide enhanced care for the women we see, particularly those who have personality disorders or who struggle with emotional regulation.

There is still stigma and a lack of knowledge about maternal mental health and mental health in general, although one in five women experience symptoms of depression in the postnatal period. Awareness has improved regarding postnatal depression due to high-profile celebrities being open about their own experiences. This needs to continue so that the public have more understanding and know that if they experience their own mental health issues there is help available.  

The Duchess of Cambridge visited our unit earlier this year. Maternal mental health and child mental health are two of her priorities and I feel confident that she’s becoming a real voice to help challenge the stigma and increase awareness.

On World Maternal Mental Health Day, I want to let people know that there is support out there which can make a huge difference. It can be very helpful to share your experiences. If you’re struggling, please talk to someone.

Further information

NHS Choices
Baby Buddy app
Maternal Mental Health Alliance

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