A leading charity is warning that thousands of women in Northern Ireland who need treatment for mental health problems during pregnancy or following birth are at risk of receiving inadequate support.
There are significant gaps here in the provision of vital services and care for women and their families affected by perinatal mental health illnesses, according to recent research by NSPCC Northern Ireland, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association (CPHVA).
The NSPCC has launched a new campaign - Fight for a Fair Start - which calls for improved perinatal mental health provision and to ensure babies and families have the best start. The charity says that while significant investment to improve services has been made in England, Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK with no specialist mother-and-baby mental health unit.
It means that women needing specialist inpatient care are admitted for treatment in a general psychiatric ward, separated from their baby during this period.
Perinatal mental health problems are among the most common complications that a woman can experience when having a baby, with up to one in five women affected during pregnancy and in the year after birth.
Problems include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic distress disorder, eating disorders and postpartum psychosis.
Perinatal mental health problems can also make it harder for parents to provide the care that babies need for healthy social, intellectual and emotional development.
Caroline Cunningham, senior policy researcher at NSPCC Northern Ireland, said: "New mums and dads here are still not receiving the mental health support that they need to give their babies the best start in life.
"Investment for specialist perinatal mental health services is vital so families can access the right support in their local area.
"The Department of Health must make a commitment to ensure that midwives and health visitors get the training and support they need and all women and their families affected by the most serious problems can access potentially lifesaving treatment in the form of specialist services, and support from a mother-and-baby unit if they need it."