Parental health and wellbeing is a significant challenge that was heightened in the pandemic. In part due to stigma, 75 per cent of parents suffering from anxiety and depression are not getting help until crisis point.
Gold standard care requires universal access to mental health support through ongoing access to screening, telehealth, group prenatal care and care continuity during pregnancy. Ensuring continuity of care either through an obstetrician, GP or midwife should be a priority of all levels of government. Care needs to work for different family cohorts, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents and extended family. These additional investments would:
■ Improve maternal mental and physical health;
■ Reduce rates of low birthweight babies – group prenatal care reduces the risk of low birthweight by up to 68 per cent compared to individual prenatal care;
■ Lower rates of stillbirth - while debate is ongoing on the best form of continuity of care during pregnancy, there is overwhelming evidence that it reduces pre-term birth and foetal loss across a variety of settings.
Financial implications - The costs of perinatal mental health challenges are significant. The provision of group prenatal care could reduce the number of Australian babies of low birthweight and could lead to an increase in academic achievement and long-term earnings for these children. This could lift future earnings by 2.5 per cent. The cost of such a scheme would be $150 million per year.