Synapse Centre ESNEFT Neurodevelopment Education Series (SENSE)

Session 1 – Update on perinatal development & mental health

Monday 9th January 2023  1-5pm

Please e-mail to book space


1-1:15pm Dr Ben Marlow (Clinical Director Synapse Centre, CYP Lead SNEE ICB)
Dr Annie Soares (GP Partner Ambrose Avenue Group Practice, ICB Perinatal Mental Health Clinical Lead)

Title: Introduction to SENSE education series / Synapse Centre for Neurodevelopment ESNEFT.

1:15-2pm Dr Silvia Rigato.    Babylab, University of Essex

Title: The mental health crisis of expectant women in the UK: effects of the COVID-19
pandemic on prenatal mental health, antenatal attachment and social support

Experiences of prenatal trauma, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, may exacerbate vulnerability to negative health outcomes for pregnant women and their infants. In this study a sample of 150 UK expectant women were surveyed during the COVID-19 pandemic. We found that direct experience of prenatal trauma, such as the one experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, significantly amplified mothers’ vulnerability to mental health symptoms and impaired the formation of a positive relationship with their unborn baby. Health services should prioritise interventions strategies aimed at fostering support for pregnant women


Dr Silvia Rigato works as a Senior lecturer at the University of Essex, where she set up the Essex Babylab for studying child development, and co-founded the multidisciplinary group ‘From the womb to the world’ to bridge the gap between lab-based research and the community of parents and professionals. Her research in developmental cognitive neuroscience focuses on how the infant’s brain responds to social and perceptual stimuli, how these responses change over time and how they are influenced by prenatal environment and postnatal experiences.

2-3pm Dr Annie Swanepoel, Consultant Psychiatrist, CAMHS LD service

Topic:  An evolutionary perspective on perinatal mental health and neurodevelopment

Abstract : This talk will take a broad evolutionary view on how babies are primed to adapt to their environment both before and after birth by considering intrauterine programming, parent-offspring conflict, attachment theory, differential susceptibility, life history theory and evolutionary mismatch.


Dr Annie Swanepoel is a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist who works in the SET CAMHS Learning Disability Team across Essex. She also holds a PhD in Human Physiology and has a particular interest in evolution, neurodevelopmental disorders and developmental trauma.

3-4pm Dr Katharine Fowler and Professor Colin Martin

Title –  PeRinAtal exercise and its role for Mental health (PRAM)


Perinatal mental health has been underserved in the past, and it was only in 2018 that perinatal mental health services were implemented in to the NHS.

Mental health needs can be exacerbated during the perinatal period, and predominantly the support provided has included psychological interventions and medicinal therapy.

Exercise has been shown to help reduce mental health needs in the general population, and reduce postnatal depression symptoms. However, there is limited research for other perinatal mental health conditions such as anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. We will discuss a qualitative interview study exploring people’s views of exercise during pregnancy on mental health needs; pregnant ladies and healthcare professionals. This study will aim to shape future exercise interventions within the perinatal setting.

4-5pm Dr Ellen Auty (Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Lead of Parent Infant Mental Health Service & Perinatal Psychology)
Dr Daniela Hooper (Perinatal Consultant Psychiatrist, Essex Perinatal Mental Health Service- North East Essex Hub)
Helen Jackson (Perinatal Mental Health Nurse, NSFT)

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