Objective: To explore the support currently offered to male partners of women admitted to specialist Mother and Baby Units (MBUs) in the United Kingdom (UK).
Background: In the UK, psychiatric MBUs offer dual admission for women experiencing severe mental illness and their newborn in order to improve maternal mental health and minimise disruption to the mother-infant bond. However, admission for many women also means separation from their partners, which could have a detrimental impact on the relationship between the woman and her partner, and the father-infant-bond. Current UK guidelines for managing mental health problems in pregnancy and the postnatal period recommend addressing the needs of partners, with MBU standards outlining the need to ensure that appropriate emotional, informational and practical support is offered. However, as there is a variety of ways in which support could be offered by MBUs and fathers have differing needs, the way in which this support is delivered may vary from unit to unit.
Method: As part of this questionnaire-based survey, 17 MBUs in the UK were contacted and asked to provide information on the psychological and/or psychological support interventions currently being offered by their service to male partners of patients. Information on barriers to and facilitators of offering support, together with aspirations for future support, was also collected.
Results: Ten (58%) MBUs completed the survey and provided information. The findings suggest that support was offered in a variety of ways by different members of staff, to partners on their own or to couples, or to couples and their babies. Partner-level barriers included willingness to engage and other commitments such as work and childcare, while service-level barriers related to resources and staff training. Facilitators identified related to service resources and staff attitude towards support. Ideas for additional support included peer support groups, partner targeted information/skills groups and individual/couple therapy.
Conclusions: All of the MBUs who responded to the survey offered support to male partners. The findings capture the varied nature of interventions on offer across MBUs in the UK, which may reflect regional variations in patients’ and their male partners’ needs and staff preferences and training backgrounds.