Presentation summaries and biogs from our 2015 Conference - 'Antenatal Mental Health: Keeping the baby in mind’


‘New insights into the link between childhood trauma, antenatal depression and outcome for the child’

Mothers who experienced childhood trauma are at increased risk of becoming depressed in pregnancy. Using data from the South London Child Development Study (1986-2015) I will demonstrate how their offspring are at risk of maltreatment and psychopathology themselves. The antenatal period provides a window of opportunity for women to discuss their own childhood experiences, as they themselves become mothers.


Dr Susan Pawlby is a Developmental Clinical Psychologist and Lecturer in the Section of Perinatal Psychiatry at King’s College London, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, and a member of the Multi-Disciplinary Team on the Channi Kumar Mother and Baby Unit at the Bethlem Royal Hospital, South London and Maudsley NHS Trust. She trained as a child psychologist and has over 30 years of experience working with mothers and babies both in clinical and research contexts. She trained in observational methodology and has pioneered the use of video feedback techniques in supporting the developing relationship between mothers with severe mental illness and their infants.

Dr Pawlby provides expert advice to the NSPCC’s All Babies Count Campaign and is a member of the Early Years’ Champions working group dedicated to pushing forward the all-party manifesto on the First 1001 Critical Days from conception to 2 years. She recently gave expert evidence before the All Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry committed to the prevention of problems in childhood and adolescence, through early intervention in pregnancy and the first years.


‘Trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder during pregnancy and after birth’

Research on trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during pregnancy and after birth is relatively new but clearly demonstrates the importance of recognizing and treating women with PTSD at this time. Women with PTSD in pregnancy are at greater risk of poor outcomes, such as preterm birth which is associated with significant morbidity and mortality. Approximately 3% of women develop PTSD as a result of difficult or traumatic events during labour and birth, and prevalence rates increase for women who have preterm or stillborn infants or life-threatening complications during pregnancy or labour. This talk gives an overview of the causes and impact of PTSD in pregnancy and after birth and highlights key issues that need addressing.


Susan is Professor of Maternal and Child Health and Director of the Centre for Maternal and Child Health Research at City University London. Susan is a chartered psychologist specialising in perinatal mental health. Her research examines women's mental health during pregnancy and after birth, with a particular focus on anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. She has written numerous papers and book chapters on perinatal mental health and psychology in medical practice, including Psychology for Medicine (2011) and the Cambridge Handbook of Psychology, Health and Medicine (2007). She was awarded the Annual Lecturer Prize by the Society of Reproductive and Infant Psychology in 2012.


Sir Al Aynsley-Green was University Lecturer and Fellow of Green College, Oxford, then Professor of Child Health in the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Professor and Director of Clinical Research at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, the first National Clinical Director for Children in Government, and then first Children’s Commissioner for England, 2005-10.

He is now Professor Emeritus of Child Health at University College London, and President, the British Medical Association.

He was knighted for his services to children and young people in 2006 and has received many markers of esteem including the Spence Medal of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and the Prader Prize of the European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology.


Dr Trudi Seneviratne is consultant adult and perinatal psychiatrist, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. She is the lead consultant for the specialist perinatal services and a lead for children’s safeguarding at the trust. She leads the team in the assessment and management of women who experience a mental illness either during pregnancy or in the postnatal period, and their families. Dr Seneviratne leads the Bethlem Mother and Baby Unit and offers outpatient clinics at Lewisham Hospital and King’s College Hospital, with the community perinatal service.

She was the first chair of the London Regional Network in Perinatal Psychiatry and works both locally and nationally developing perinatal mental health services.

She has an extensive role in training and education at undergraduate and postgraduate level and has developed various training packages including a multiagency simulation training package in perinatal mental health.


‘The importance of antenatal mental health for fetal and child development’

Mental health is the most neglected aspect of maternity care. This is important both for the mother herself and for the development of her fetus and her child. Anxiety and depression are as common during pregnancy as postnatally, and can have long lasting effects on fetal development, by fetal programming. There is an increased risk of a wide range of emotional, behavioural and cognitive problems in the child. Some of these are risk factors in turn for later criminal behaviour. If the mother is in the top 15% of the population for symptoms of antenatal anxiety or depression, this doubles the risk of her child having a probable mental disorder at the age of 13 years, after allowing for a wide range of confounders including postnatal maternal mood and parenting style. Most children are not affected and those that are can be affected in different ways. This depends, at least in part, on the particular genetic vulnerabilities of each child, and the quality of the postnatal care.

“The costs of perinatal mental health problems” has estimated that perinatal mental health per year’s births in the UK costs a total of £8.1 billion. Over two thirds of this is because of long-term effects on the child. Improving the quality of perinatal mental health care would considerably reduce costs to the public sector as well as improving the health of the next generation.


Vivette Glover is Professor of Perinatal Psychobiology at Imperial College London. Her first degree was in Biochemistry at Oxford University, and she did her PhD in neurochemistry at University College London. In 1997 she set up the Fetal and Neonatal Stress Research Group. The effects of the emotional state of the mother, both on the developing fetus and longer term on the child are being studied. Her group are also studying the biological mechanisms that may underlie such fetal programming.

She has published over 450 papers and been awarded the Marcé Society Medal. She is currently an advisor to the Early Intervention Foundation, the NSPCC, the Maternal Mental Health Alliance and is the biometric lead on the Big Lottery Better Start program.


‘The effects of stress and cigarette smoking on fetal movements’

Mothers at times report being stressed during pregnancy. What effect does this self reported stress have on their unborn child? We analysed fetal self touch in 4D ultrasound scans and found that most fetuses did not chose one hand in preference of another to touch their face. However, when examining whether fetuses touched their face with the right or left hand taking into account if the mother reported being stressed in the month before the scan took place, there was a highly significant relationship between maternal self reported stress and left handed touching. The more stress mothers reported, the more frequently foetuses could be observed to touch their face with their left hand.

Mothers who are stressed might try to cope with their stresses in various ways. One of these ways found still in around 20% of mothers in the North East of the UK is to smoke. Nadja will be talking in detail over the interesting results of her pilot study.

Dr. Nadja Reissland is a psychologist and Deputy Head of the Science Faculty, Durham University.


Jane’s paper will examine recent research regarding the importance of the maternal relationship with the foetus/unborn baby, and methods of working to support that relationship. It will describe what is now known about the impact of the mothers emotional and cognitive mind during pregnancy, in terms of both direct (i.e. impact of cortisol that crosses the placental barrier on foetal central nervous system) and indirect (i.e. impact on health and parenting behaviours during pregnancy and the postnatal period) pathways. The paper will conclude by examining a number of innovative and evidence-based methods of working during pregnancy.


Jane’s main research interest is the role of early parenting in the aetiology of mental health problems, and in particular the evaluation of early interventions aimed at improving parenting practices and reducing the risk of child maltreatment, particularly during pregnancy and the postnatal period.

Jane Barlow is the current President of AIMH (UK), she is Professor of Public Health in the Early Years, University of Warwick, Acting Pro Dean for Research and Director of Warwick Infant and Family Wellbeing Unit.

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