Health and Social Care

It’s time the Welsh Government take perinatal care seriously

I recently spoke in the Welsh Parliament about the importance of women being allowed partners or birthing partners to be present throughout the birthing process, including at scans, writes Laura Anne Jones MS.

I spoke of my own experience with the undetected, unexpected complications that I had, very last minute, with the birth of my second child, Joey.

I explained that if I hadn’t had someone with me, an already traumatic experience, would have been made even more traumatic.

There has to be some consideration of the mental health of those giving birth.

If there is a scan that shows problems or the death of a baby, or if, like happened to me, there is a near-death experience of the mother and/or child, or any of the multitude of things that could happen during the birthing process, the partner should be there just in case, as well as to, hopefully, experience the  joy of a new child or children coming into the world.

I highlighted the lottery that exists across health boards of the time you can be present during the birthing process, or if partners can go to scans or not.

That is why I was pleased the Welsh Parliament debated support for parents and new born babies during the pandemic this week.

Even before the pandemic, however, perinatal mental health care has been lacking in Wales.

COVID-19 has exacerbated the gaps already present within perinatal care, and has caused significant anxiety for mothers and their partners over their birthing plans and beyond. 

The first 1000 days of a child’s life is crucially important to their future development, so the importance of ensuring that mothers and their babies are supported to build lifelong relationships cannot be understated.

Almost 9,000 new mothers experience perinatal mental health problems each year in Wales.

NSPCC estimates this equates to 270 out of every 1000 births.  Of these, over half – 4,992 – relate to anxiety.

With the onset of COVID-19 and resulting restrictions, the need for assistance has been stronger than ever.

Over six months ago, the NSPCC outlined its concerns about the effects of COVID-19 lockdowns on perinatal mental health in evidence to the Children, Young People and Education Committee.

What happens at home really does affect children’s long-term mental health and development.

But it is not only the relationship between the parent and child that is important
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How parents get on with each other also plays a big role in a child’s wellbeing, with the potential to affect everything from mental health to academic success and future relationships.

In most cases, arguments will have little or no negative effects for children.

But when parents shout and are angry with each other, when they consistently withdraw or give each other the “silent treatment”, problems can sometimes arise.

But UK and international research conducted over several decades through observations in the home, long-term follow up work and experimental studies, suggests that from as young as six months, children exposed to conflict may have increased heart rates and stress hormone responses.

Infants, children and adolescents can show signs of disrupted early brain development, sleep disturbance, anxiety, depression, conduct disorder and other serious problems as a result of living with severe or chronic inter-parental conflict.

Similar effects are also seen in children who are exposed to ongoing but less intense conflict, compared with children whose parents constructively negotiate or resolve conflicts.

Wales needs more health visitors, nurses or midwives who are passionate about promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing illness, working with families to give pre-school-age children the best possible start in life. 

Additionally, Wales still has no specialist mother and baby unit for perinatal mental health.

The Welsh Government closed the only Mother and Baby Unit in Wales back in 2013, leaving new mothers without the support they need after giving birth, and has been as yet unable to replace it.

 The Welsh Government also continues to assert that there ‘isn’t enough demand’ for a Mother and Baby Unit in North Wales, something my Party has been consistently campaigning to change. 

We have been clear that guidelines must ensure flexibility for expectant mothers to receive support they need at these important times.

While Welsh Conservatives welcome updated guidance, we are concerned that some health boards are being too stringent, so mothers and partners are losing out on bonding time with their babies.   

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Welsh Conservatives have consistently campaigned to ensure that partners and family members were allowed to attend appointments and delivery with expectant mothers.

We have a duty to ensure mothers and their babies are given the help and support they need to enjoy the best start in life.


Laura Anne Jones is the Member of the Senedd for South Wales East and the Shadow Minister for Equalities, Children and Young People.