Five principles of perinatal peer support

By Laura Wood

Laura Wood has written extensively about her own experiences of perinatal mental health. In 2016, she was part of the external advisory group for our Parents in Mind peer support programme. Here she talks about her involvement developing perinatal mental health peer support principles with Mind and the McPin Foundation.

Peer support that promotes the emotional wellbeing of new parents has long been one of the key values that NCT is known for, and the Parents in Mind project has enhanced this, providing mum-to-mum support for women experiencing low mood, anxiety or poor mental health during pregnancy or postnatally. As a member of the advisory group for Parents in Mind, I witnessed the joys – and the challenges – of delivering this support in a way that was safe, accessible, and helpful for everybody.

NCT was able to share some of the lessons learned from creating Parents in Mind, contributing to the co-design of the new perinatal peer support principles. I’m one of three lived experience facilitators who worked with staff from Mind and McPin Foundation to produce guidance that would support people to create and deliver peer support that truly meets the needs of women affected by mental health difficulties during and after pregnancy. We held three consultation events, in Birmingham, London and Newcastle, and three focus groups in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Online surveys were available for people who couldn’t attend. We spoke to mums and families, midwives and health visitors, people working in clinical perinatal mental health services, charities and other organisations facilitating peer support for parents… anyone with relevant experience. We invited people from as many under-represented groups as we could. McPin also did some interviews with perinatal peer support providers, including NCT, to discuss the logistics of offering such support in more depth.

The result is five principles accompanied by explanatory notes and reflective prompts to get people to think about how they can be met whether you’re online, half a dozen mums in someone’s living room, or a large organisation like NCT. Using this guidance will help to ensure that your peer support is safe, inclusive, informed, that it benefits everyone involved, and remains distinct from – but connected to – clinical perinatal mental health services. You can access the principles online, along with a more detailed report about the findings, via the website for the Maternal Mental Health Alliance.

I hope that these principles will make safe, welcoming, nurturing peer support accessible to more mums who need it. I believe that they will as lived experience has been at the heart of the project. Because the principles were co-created with women and families who have lived through perinatal mental health difficulties, they are shaped around their needs, not what others imagine those needs to be.

My own experience has informed the work. In 2014, I emerged from a psychiatric mother and baby unit, dazed and scared, and was promptly dropped by the community mental health team. It was other mums who pulled me through, namely my friend Hayley from NCT classes and everyone who participated in Rosey Adams’ #PNDFamily on social media. I know that peer support, done right, can be lifesaving and can set you up, as a parent, to know and trust yourself and your baby.

The principles have now been developed, tested, and launched. We presented them at Peerfest, Mind’s annual celebration of peer support, in Birmingham on 3rd December and held a workshop with some activities and discussion so that we could all get stuck in. I’m so excited that the principles are ready, and I’m now leading the team in ‘disseminating’ the work – which means making sure that all the wonderful knowledge which people so generously and so enthusiastically shared gets out to where it will be useful. We’ll be touring with more workshops and presentations throughout 2020: drop an email to to subscribe to our mailing list.

Download the perinatal peer support principles here.

Pre-order Laura’s book on maternal mental health here, and follow her on Twitter @cooksferryqueen.

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