Due to personal and family history with mental health issues, my biggest fear about becoming a new mum was that i would develop post-natal depression or the lesser spoken about, postpartum psychosis. Whilst it turns out that i’ve been lucky, other’s haven’t been so lucky. As with depression, post-natal depression doesn’t discriminate apart from targeting new mother’s and father’s (yes, dad’s can get post-natal depression too!). Too many women, at approximately 1 in 7 women giving birth in Australia and 1 in 10 in the UK, suffer alone, too ashamed to ask for help.
Over the last 14 months through my experience of becoming a mum and my interactions with other mums, first time mum’s etc i’ve been astonished not by how many mother’s suffer in silence but how many people are so bloody ignorant to post-natal depression and the struggles of new mum’s. Whilst i can’t talk from experience on post-natal depression, through previously having depression and being a new mum i can only empathise with how incredibly hard, lonely and hopeless I would feel trying to juggle the two in today’s society. Also, if you didn’t know already i work in the mental health field and have done since leaving Uni (minus all the traveling and teaching in Thailand!) and challenging mental health stigma and raising awareness is my passion! So here is a nice reminder for us all on how we can better support those new mum’s around us and find some empathy for post-natal depression.
Be kind and keep your unsolicited advice!
I mean being kind is hardly rocket science, but i feel like some mum’s feel like being a parent gives them a free ticket to be a total fucking bitch! If someone asks for your advice, share with them your experiences and what works for you, what research might say etc. Don’t tell them how they should do something and don’t make them feel awful for how they do, do something even if it’s different to you. Unless a child is at risk, keep your nose out. If you don’t know, google ‘a child at risk’ cos’ it sure as hell isn’t a bottle fed baby or a child who eats meat, dairy and gluten!! Keeping your nose out also doesn’t mean hiding behind a computer screen and mum-bashing on social media!
Next time your at the park, the local cafe, at your mother’s group etc in your big group of mummy friends and a mum approaches you to say hi, give her just a little of your time because it probably took all her energy and strength to get out of bed that morning let alone find the courage to reach out and try to make friends. Knocking her back will do so much more damage than you could ever know, enough that she might not leave the house again because she feel’s so utterly worthless.
Check in & don’t stop the invites
We all live busy lives but make it a priority to check in with your new mum friends, even if it’s a text or a phone call to ask “how are you going?”. It could be the only adult interaction/conversation they’ve had all day or it could be the reminder they need that people do care. If you do make plans to catch up, make yourself available and flexible a few hours either side of the times you made plans to meet. Things happen with a baby, the unexpected spew, the constant shitty nappies, the longer nap than expected or the struggle to get up and dressed. Don’t get frustrated.
Even if you know that the location, the times, the nature of the event isn’t going to work for your new mum friend and anyway they have already declined your last five invites to meet up, don’t stop inviting them. The last thing a new mum needs whilst they are adjusting to life with a baby is to feel forgotten about.
Assure them they are not putting you out
Like the declined invites, how many times have you offered to babysit, cook dinner or do the shopping for a new mum only for them to refuse the offer!? Probably everytime you have offered to help. The truth is they probably want to accept this help more then anything just so they can catch a 20 minute nap or shower in peace but feel too ashamed and don’t want to put you out. Assure them that it’s no trouble at all, depending on how close you are, insist that you help. Also recognise anxiety and the fear a mother may feel about being separated from her baby or the guilt of leaving the baby and accepting help. Validate these feelings.
Do your research
Just like you would if a friend told you they had a medical condition, do your research. Find out about the signs and symptoms of post-natal depression, what to expect and how you can help and support someone experiencing it.
Look out for the signs and encourage them to seek help
Most new mum’s find life with a baby a big adjustment, they can get teary and overwhelmed, they can long for their old life and care-free lifestyles and many signs and symptoms of post-natal depression are experienced by most first time mum’s anyway. These include things such as problems sleeping, lack of interest in things that you previously enjoyed, poor concentration, poor hygiene, feelings of guilt, sadness, and helplessness etc but it’s when these feelings start to occur everyday, don’t disappear after a week or two or seriously impact their daily life, affecting relationships, work, health, sleep and emotional stability that they may need to seek professional advice from a GP. If this becomes evident to you, or someone confides in you, encourage them to see a doctor or join a support group, you can even offer to go with them if you are in a position of trust. Don’t advise that they ‘get some anti-depressants’ – medication doesn’t work for everyone and it isn’t the only solution, most people are put off seeking help just at the mere mention of anti-depressants. A doctor or psychiatrist can discuss an array of treatment options and the possible side effects of these with their patients.
Learn to empathise
The art of empathy is simply to share the feelings and experiences of an another. If someone tells you that they feel like a bad mum because all they want to do his hide under the duvet all day because they feel so hopeless, coupled with the fact that they don’t have the energy to play with and entertain their baby. Try to imagine what that must be like to feel so low that you can’t provide the environment you want for someone you love. If you have ever experienced sadness and exhaustion and you have ever been in love then you are halfway to knowing how they must be feeling. To empathise though, you need to listen. Encourage new mum’s to share their experiences and tell you how they are feeling. Let them know you are there to listen and that they can trust you not to judge them.
Don’t let them compare
We’re all guilty of this, comparing ourselves and our lives to that of someone else. In a world of social media this is even harder not to do. It’s easy to scroll through instagram photo’s and ‘mummy blogs’ of all these mum’s who look to be getting it just right, but as we know looks can be deceiving and so can instagram photo’s and facebook profiles. Let’s remind mum’s of this when they compare themselves to other mum’s and focus on their own strengths. If you think they’re really beating themselves up, you can always suggest a temporary social media ‘check out’.
Remind them what a good job they’re doing
New mum’s battle with so much guilt when raising a family, guilt that they are not working and contributing financially, guilt that they are working and paying someone else to look after their baby, guilt that their relationship with their baby’s dad broke down and their time is split between two homes, guilt that their baby’s dad doesn’t want to be involved in their lives, guilt that they argue too much with the dad as they’re both so exhausted, guilt that they can’t afford the best of everything, guilt that they might be spoiling their child too much, the list goes on and in actual fact a new mum will question just about everything they do for the rest of their lives after having a baby. It’s our job as friends and family to remind them that they are doing a fantastic job! Comment on how well mannered or behaved their children are, how clean the house looks all things considered or what a super mum you think they are to hold down a job or higher education study whilst adjusting to motherhood. Regular praise is often enough to raise someone’s self confidence.
It goes without saying that all of the above is relevant for new dad’s too. Please don’t be responsible for someone’s shit day or even worse a downward decline in someones mental wellbeing. Let’s raise awareness, look out for one another and encourage new parent’s to reach out. Remember, we are/ or will all be new to this parenting business at some point
Help and Advice
- Your GP
- Midwives and Child and Family Health Nurse
- Beyone Blue (AUS)
- PANDA (AUS)
- NHS (UK)
- MIND (UK)
If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, or someone you know is, contact your country’s crisis line immediately or call for an ambulance.
Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14
Samaritans UK: 116 123