Some Hope For New Mothers

In the latest national Budget, a pinch of money has been set aside for an initiative long overdue. The North Island will finally get some mother-and-baby mental health beds.

Mother-and-baby beds are very important for women who suffer from post-partum mental illnesses. Staying with the baby while undergoing treatment is important for these women, so they can bond with their child. However, this is not really practical in a standard psychiatric ward.

I think it’s wonderful that there is going to be an option for some of these women, but I’m worried that it’s not enough. The numbers don’t look good.

The incidence of puerperal psychosis is 1-2 per 1000 births. New Zealand sees around 60,000 births per year. That means that 60-120 women per year will suffer from puerperal psychosis. The usual length of stay for women with puerperal psychosis is 4-8 weeks. So, at a conservative estimate, NZ needs 1680-3360 nights of care available (60-120 women times 28 days – the longer figure of 8 weeks gives figures of 3360-6720 ) – just for puerperal psychosis. Post-natal depression, which affects about 5-25% of mothers, will take up some of these beds as well, although I’m not sure how many.

Currently, there are 5 beds available, but the new funding will add another 4 beds, plus 10-14 “community residential beds”. 9 true psychiatric beds equates to 3285 nights of care available. The extra 10-14 will add another 3650-5110 nights of care, but I suspect that they will not be suitable for true psychosis.

Even if the beds are enough, there is the problem of location. The current beds are all in Christchurch, and the new beds will all be in Auckland. This means that women from other areas will have the choice of staying near their family, or staying with their baby. Being in a psych unit is a terribly isolating experience, and being away from support people would make it even harder.

It’s a good start, but I don’t think it goes far enough. Unfortunately, mental health funding is so poor that we tend to be grateful for whatever we get, because there’s not a lot of hope of getting anything more.

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