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Maternal Mental Health Doesn't Take a Day Off and Neither Should the Conversation Around It

It’s no secret that having a baby is a major life event; whether a woman carried and delivered her baby, or entered motherhood in ‘non-traditional’ ways, her life is forever changed once a baby is in the mix.

And while every woman’s experience is individual and there are countless joys and celebrations within the journey to motherhood, it’s fair to say that for many women trying to conceive, pregnancy, birth and postpartum are often the most vulnerable times they ever find themselves in, both mentally and physically.

While most of us have heard about the ‘baby blues’, poor maternal mental health is much more than that, and if not managed effectively, can have a serious negative impact on each aspect of a mothers’ life, including her family.

It’s for that reason that awareness initiatives like last week’s Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week and Black Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, which took place in mid- April, are incredibly important not only to advance the mental health of mothers, but also to continue pushing for an overall positive maternal health experience, as the two are intrinsically linked.

With May also being Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s crucial that we keep the conversation going.

The reality is that women’s maternal health experiences are still shockingly negative, ultimately leading to poor maternal mental health. You don’t have to look far to find the evidence.

New analysis from Save the Children found that 24 million women will give birth this year without the support of a doctor, midwife or nurse making mothers and children more vulnerable than ever. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is an issue impacting ‘third world’ countries only.  Recent data from MBRACE UK showed that maternal death rates during pregnancy and the immediate postpartum period have reached levels not seen in the UK for almost 20 years. And just a few months ago, analysis from the BBC, using research from the Care Quality Commission, England’s regulator responsible for maternity services among others, highlighted that a shocking  two-thirds (67%) of maternity units are not safe enough. As if these figures were not bad enough, there are of course, as in most other areas of healthcare, serious disparities in outcomes for Black women, who are still 4 times more likely to die in pregnancy, childbirth, and the 6 weeks after. Black mothers in England are also twice as likely to be hospitalised with perinatal mental illness, new research has found.

And it’s not just the UK where maternity care paints a shocking picture. Last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that maternal mortality rates have stagnated in some countries in Europe, despite progress being made over the past 20 years. On the other side of the globe, the US has been named as the most dangerous wealthy nation for a woman to give birth.

For most mothers, it probably doesn’t come as surprise that their physical experience throughout pregnancy and childbirth has a severe impact on how they are able to cope mentally.

Following the birth of my child a few months ago, I reflect on the experience with a mix of gratitude and lingering disappointment. Despite my efforts to prepare and educate myself, the reality didn’t align with the serene birth I envisioned. Instead, I found myself in a rushed and panicked situation, feeling unheard by the medical team. While I remained composed, it was evident that time constraints and stretched resources affected their ability to provide the support I needed. Though I emerged physically unscathed, the experience left a lasting emotional impact. I couldn’t shake the feeling that a more positive birth was within reach if only my concerns had been taken seriously.

I have heard countless stories from friends and people close to me about the impact their pregnancy, birth, and the way they were treated throughout, has had on their mental health. Here are just a few of the things I’ve been told:

“My post-delivery care was shocking. My in-hospital stay was dreadful. I had nurses guilt tripping me into walking more than my body could handle after I had a scheduled c-section. The lack of compassion was telling. For them it’s business as usual… for you it’s a life changing moment which will require a graceful transition for you to show up as your best self for your baby.”

“I wish I had advocated better for myself post-pregnancy. However, I was a first-time mum, navigating a new world and I questioned whether feeling ill was part & parcel of those early days with a newborn, and dealing with the internal goings on. I was not listened to and whilst I should have demanded better care, shouted louder, I felt too vulnerable and unsure to do so.”

“There are a few things I would change about my maternal health experience. I really wish more education or insight on the health and experience of black families would be prioritised more. I felt like I was scared into additional scans, tests, and blood pressure readings because of my ethnicity rather than my personal stats.”

While there are many reasons why maternity care is not up to standard, and several policy changes and initiatives have been put in place to improve the maternal health experience in several countries, it’s clear that a major overhaul is needed to make a positive maternal health journey the norm and not the anomaly.

But it’s not just a matter for policymakers and the wider health system, brands and businesses should play a part too.

There are countless brands out there providing solutions and products for pregnant women, new mothers, and babies and it’s great to see more of them realising the need to connect with their audiences beyond ‘just’ product. From practical advice to lobbying for policy change, there are some great examples of brands who are going the distance, showing that they understand their audiences, including their lived experiences and the issues they care about. Building an emotional connection is key. It drives affinity and allows brands to appear human and authentic, and in return leads to brand loyalty.

But while there are some great examples, there is an opportunity for brands to be braver and bolder to really drive meaningful change, especially with audiences that are traditionally harder to reach, or what I like to call “simply underserved.”

However, this approach takes guts and requires brands to move away from a safe, comfortable position, going beyond just ‘mainstream’ issues. It means they must look behind the curtain to identify topics that are not commonly spoken about, diving into the unknown and beyond the obvious, targeting specific demographics and populations. After all, every lived experience is different. It also requires meaningful and authentic partnerships with organisations and community leaders that have the expertise to provide insight into these underserved audiences, and how best to communicate with them in ways that let them connect emotionally.

And most crucially, it requires a continuous commitment to champion and relate to their audiences on an ongoing basis, not just during awareness initiatives. Because at the end of the day, maternal health doesn’t take a day off, and deserves to be in the spotlight every single day.


Authored by Ramona Aning.

Senior Account Director
Member of the Inclusion Council