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Key takeaways:

  • Melodies for mums is a free weekly singing service for mothers with postnatal depression
  • Funding for the programme has come from: Private funders, CCGs, National Lottery Community Fund, Wellcome Trust

Breathe Melodies for Mums is a pioneering singing service for mothers with symptoms of or a diagnosis of postnatal depression (PND).  It’s based on ground-breaking research from Royal College of Music and Imperial College London into the impact of group singing on maternal mental health; findings included that for mums with moderate-severe symptoms of PND, the group singing programme led to significantly faster recovery than creative play or care as normal.  After just six weeks of singing, these mums had experienced a decrease of nearly 35% in their symptoms.  65% no longer had moderate-severe symptoms.  Group singing was also linked to greater increases in perceived mother-baby closeness and greater decreases in cortisol, a stress hormone, than other social interactions.

Sessions are centred on mothers and led by a specialist arts and health singing leader with songs ranging from folk to gospel, in several different languages and with multi-part harmonies encouraging women to push their artistic boundaries and explore their voices with others.  Programmes are fully funded so participation is free of charge ensuring they are inclusive and accessible regardless of financial means. Weekly sessions allow participants to connect with each other in a supportive space, establish a structure to their week, and have a positive experience to focus on.

Music lead Elisa Jeffery is playing the guitar, while mums sit with their babies on a play mat.

Three participants are warming up and stretching prior to the group starting

The first translation of the research into practice was a founding programme in 2017, piloted within our local community of Lambeth, linking in with Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust. Since then, establishing different streams of Breathe Melodies for Mums has been determined by a combination of factors:

  • Identifying need for the intervention in a borough or community
  • Securing support from referrers in healthcare and in the community
  • Finding funding to deliver the programme in the immediate term
  • The potential to secure funding longer-term

The potential to secure longer-term funding aligns with our approach at Breathe Arts Health Research; we take our responsibility for implementing sustainable arts health programmes very seriously so avoid establishing programmes that are unlikely to either prove the case for, or lead to, longer-term embedding within communities and/or care pathways.

Since 2017, Breathe Melodies for Mums has been delivered and funded by various means:

  • Private funders have enabled us to flexibly pilot different versions of the intervention in new and varied settings to prove the adaptability and effectiveness of the delivery model. Examples include the first standalone Breathe Melodies for Mums programme in Southwark and more recently a pilot programme in South London and Maudsley Mother & Baby Unit.
  • South East London Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) heard about the success of this first standalone programme in Southwark and Breathe’s evidence-based approach and commissioned Breathe Melodies for Mums in Bromley, Bexley & Greenwich. These three boroughs were identified as having fewer maternal health services than other boroughs in the same CCG. Due to the pandemic and in agreement with the CCG, this programme was adapted for delivery online, reaching 63 women across 42 sessions in a 6-month period.
  • Adapting the programme to run online opened avenues for delivery on a nationwide scale and access to funding from the National Lottery Community Fund enabled us to do so. As well as online, nationwide delivery we piloted a programme for women in Cumbria specifically where we had identified a high level of need and interest from local commissioners for provision of the intervention longer term. This approach was successful as we have since secured funding from Cumbria CCG to deliver further programmes in the area.

The research supporting group singing as an effective intervention for postnatal depression has been fundamental in securing funding for Breathe Melodies for Mums to date.  Scaling-up this research will be key to scaling-up the delivery of the programme and future implementation into mainstream social prescribing pathways and NHS care.  As such, Breathe Melodies for Mums is one of three arts health interventions participating in King’s College London’s £2m SHAPER (Scaling-up Health Arts Programmes: Implementation and Effectiveness Research), funded by Wellcome Trust.  The study aims to reach a much larger sample of women than the original research the programme is based on, making the case for CCGs and Integrated Care Systems (ICS) to recommend and fund the intervention in the long term.

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