Released on: 22 September 2020
NCT was delighted to attend an engagement event hosted by the Duchess of Cambridge today, focusing on the value of peer support for new parents’ mental health.
Sarah McMullen, Director of Impact and Engagement, NCT, was joined by Rosh, Nalini and Jessie, volunteer peer supporters from NCT services in Edinburgh and Newham, to discuss the important role that peer support can play in protecting and promoting emotional wellbeing.
NCT volunteers provide parent-powered support across the UK - ranging from community groups and events for all parents, through to trained peer support for women experiencing mental health issues, difficulty feeding their baby or facing challenging situations.
At least 1 in 10 new mums experience mental health issues during pregnancy or after the birth of their baby. Men are also at greater risk of mental ill health around the time of becoming a dad. Many new parents find it difficult to talk honestly about how they are feeling and suffer in silence, often until reaching crisis point. There is a very real stigma surrounding mental health issues and speaking to someone who can relate to their experience can be transformative.
NCT’s evidence-based programmes train and support volunteer peer supporters to use their lived experience to help others. Peer supporters develop a range of skills, including active listening, non-judgmental support and signposting. By creating a safe space and relationships of trust, peer supporters can help mums to describe their feelings without worry, develop confidence and coping strategies and access local services.
Sarah McMullen, Director of Impact and Engagement at NCT said:
“Peer support really can change lives, by building trusted relationships for new parents to talk honestly about how they are feeling and the difficulties they are facing. Normalising difficult feelings can help overcome guilt and shame – helping people to access the support they need and inspire hope for the future.
"COVID-19 has brought about additional challenges, with many expectant and new parents impacted by the restrictions and changes within maternity services and community support. I’m so proud of how quickly our volunteers moved their support online, so that we could continue to offer support at a time when many other services were not accessible. However, face-to-face support and social interaction is so important for new families and babies, particularly when facing difficult circumstances.
"It’s vital that healthcare providers and the voluntary sector work collaboratively to mitigate the impact of ongoing restrictions, with continued investment in services such as peer support to ensure families receive the emotional and practical support they need”.
For further detail about the event, see the Royal Foundation website.
Further information about NCT peer support programmes:
Parents in Mind
‘Parents in Mind’, initiated in 2016, is the NCT programme that trains volunteer peer supporters who have lived experience of perinatal mental health difficulties and matches each of them with a mother who needs help. The pilot programme was evaluated as a highly effective intervention, with those supported being assessed with reduced depression and anxiety scores, and many of them reporting that their confidence had returned and they could enjoy the time with their new baby again.
The training includes ‘active listening’, a skill that involves non-verbal language cues and requires sensitive and appropriate responsiveness. One supported mother said: “I really appreciated the time the volunteers took to listen to me and be on my side. It has made a huge difference to my confidence and I don’t know what I would have done without them.”
Volunteers also learn the importance of non-judgmental support. When the mothers supported were interviewed, 86% said they felt “there is someone I can talk to who understands me”. There remains a very real stigma surrounding mental health issues, and many people find it difficult to talk honestly about how they’re feeling. Women who are struggling to cope often feel they are failing as a mother. Peer supporters create a relationship of trust so that the mums can describe their feelings without worry.
Of the hundreds of mothers who have been helped, around half were from areas with a high level of deprivation. Among the trained volunteers, 62% were white British and the others from different backgrounds or ethnic groups, with a capacity to speak 16 other languages between them, often enabling improved communication.
Birth and Beyond Community Support
NCT has been training volunteer peer supporters for many years and has other similar programmes including ‘Birth & Beyond Community Support’, which focuses on new mums experiencing isolation. The peer supporters are mothers from the same communities as the women they support. In addition to providing emotional support, a key part of their role is helping expectant and new mothers access other community services and support, for example Children’s Centres, and mother and baby groups. Evaluation of the programme found that 85% of mothers said their knowledge of local services had improved and, importantly, 89% said the confidence they need to access services had also increased.
Breastfeeding peer support
Many women experience difficulties with breastfeeding: three quarters of British mothers who stopped breastfeeding in the first 6 months (and 90% of those who stopped in the first 2 weeks) said they would have liked to have continued for longer. Breastfeeding peer support has been proven to improve breastfeeding rates within a community. NCT’s breastfeeding peer supporters have all breastfed themselves. They are trained to provide women who may be struggling with non-judgmental emotional and practical support. NCT’s evaluation of its breastfeeding peer support programmes found that nearly three quarters of mothers reported that peer support had helped them to breastfeed for longer. 93% felt supported by the peer supporters, and 84% felt that peer supporters helped them to feed their baby in the way they wanted to.