Mothers who receive high levels of support after having their babies are 12 TIMES less likely to develop postnatal depression Irish researchers have found, (Leahy-Warren, McCarthy and Corcoran, 2011).
Social support is crucial
Clearly, we can significantly reduce rates of postnatal depression in mothers simply by supporting them properly in the weeks after their babies are born. Mothers who received high levels of support after their babies were born were up to 12 times less likely to suffer from postnatal depression. Just imagine the positive implications this would have for mothers, babies, and their families and society as a whole!
At the moment many mothers in Ireland receive low levels and at best, moderate levels of support in the weeks and months after their babies are born. Even moderate support correlated with a 6-fold increase in the chances of mothers developing postnatal depression compared with mothers who received high levels of support. This is hardly news to many of us, so why then, do mothers have little or no help after the birth of their baby in Ireland?
Dr Oscar Serallach says in his book The Postpartum Depletion Cure, “The well being of mothers is the fabric from which the cloth of the future of our society is made”. Writer and postpartum specialist Heng Ou says in her book The First Forty Days, that mothers feel that once the umbilical cord is cut, the attention shifts almost completely to the baby, and she can easily feel dropped. “Ironically it is precisely this time that her well being must come first. She is the source from which all life springs. If her cup runs dry then nobody drinks.”
Why, then, do we largely let mothers just get on with it and assume they are ok? Why do we risk mothers falling into postnatal depression, exhaustion, anxiety, and depletion that can last for years? What kind of cloth are we weaving for the future of our society?
Women are conditioned to put themselves last
Women are conditioned to not upset the apple cart, we are conditioned and socialised to put other people’s needs first. We are extremely sensitive to the opinions of others and never more so than when we become mothers. Mothers ache to feel the approval of their family and friends. When mothers are isolated and alone they feel it very keenly. Rates of postnatal depression are around 13% for first-time mothers and there is a strong relationship between having good support from the moment of giving birth and how likely a mother is to have postnatal depression. Rates of postnatal anxiety are also high and hugely under-reported. Social support in those early weeks and months can help to prevent postnatal depression from ever occurring, with high levels of support making mothers up to 12 times less likely to experience postnatal depression, (Leahy-Warren, McCarthy and Corcoran, 2011)
So we can clearly see that high levels of support at birth and on for the first weeks and months especially, buffers the possible stressful effects of the huge transition and life shift that is becoming a mother.
Western countries often lack a culture of support for the postnatal period
This all sounds ideal but in modern westernised cultures like Ireland, many women do not have the kind of people in their lives to offer them this much needed social support. Many mothers in Ireland live far away from their families or indeed some may not want their families around after their babies are born. Usually, partners will return to work after 2 weeks and mothers must then face long days at home with their baby. This can be a huge change for them. As she will be mostly alone she will not have someone close by to ask questions or to get reassurance from, a calming presence to tell her everything is going to be ok. .. Why is my baby crying all the time? How often should my baby poo? Am I a good mother?! Will I ever feel like myself again? Is my baby getting enough milk?
How can we create our ‘village’ of support?
So what can a mother do to, in some way, replace the loss of her caring supportive village? Creating your village before your baby is born is a great start. What supports are there in your local area? In terms of practical help, what services can you pay for that will lighten the load on you once your baby is born? Who can help you to grow in confidence as a mother while gently guiding me and giving me information and non-judgemental support?
Postpartum Doulas do that!
A postpartum doula can certainly fulfill many of these requirements. A postpartum doula will come to your home and offer you support and a listening ear. Someone to reassure her and tell her that “I see you! You’re doing great!” Someone to say “we will figure this out together”. A postpartum doula will also ‘plug you into’ other supports and resources that you did not even know were there. Groups such as mother to mother groups like Cuidiu and good healthcare professionals. Activities that she and her baby can do together when they start to venture out into the world together.
A postpartum doula offers intensive support at a very special time, a one time only window of time like no other that we have with each of our babies; the first days and weeks after the birth of a baby and the birth of a mother. Ideally, your postpartum doula will come and visit you in hospital and will then visit you when you come home and continue to do so for the first 2 weeks. A typical shift is approx 4 to 5 hours. But what does a postpartum doula actually DO?!!
A postpartum doula is a calm reassuring helper, a non-judgmental presence, a newborn breastfeeding helper, a toddler playmate, an emotional support for you. She is a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, a cook, a cleaning whizz, an organiser and more! A postpartum doula is a buffer of the stresses and strains that early parenthood brings. Contact me, Maeve Murray, Newborn mothers postpartum doula, to find out more!
See my next post for my description of a typical day in my work as a postpartum doula.