Welcoming a baby into the family is supposed to be a time of great happiness and excitement, but for many new mums, the reality can be far from this.
Low moods, anxiety and depression are really common postnatal experiences, with one in five women developing some form of mental health problem during their pregnancy or in the year after birth.
Dozens of new mental health hubs are being set up across England to help thousands of new, expectant and bereaved mothers, but there are also ways we can all do our bit to help on a micro-level.
Small acts of kindness can really help a new mum to adjust, and while there’s no substitute for proper mental health care arranged by a GP, here are some simple acts that can help to support her through a tough time.
1. Understand more about the changes she’s going through
It can be difficult to understand why a friend or loved one might be feeling low after giving birth. A good starting point is to learn more about the risk factors for mental illness in new mums and the signs of being unwell.
Mind and The Maternal Mental Health Alliance are great online resources for learning more about the perinatal experience and they can also point you in the direction of further help, should you need it.
2. Offer social support
Being a new mum can be an incredibly isolating experience. It’s important for women to feel like they have a strong network of friends and family who are ready and willing to listen and help.
Even if your new mum friend doesn’t feel up to a face-to-face meeting, a simple text asking her how she’s getting on can make all the difference.
3. Help her to build an emotional wellbeing plan
An emotional wellbeing plan is a bit like having a birth plan. It encourages women to think and talk about their mental wellbeing in the pregnancy and post-birth period, and to plan a support and self-care strategy after the birth.
Baby loss charity Tommy’s have an excellent digital tool called ‘The Pregnancy and Post-birth Wellbeing Plan’ that can help you to design a plan with a mum you know. Putting pen to paper will help her to feel in control with her mental health – and you’ll both know exactly what to do should any issues arise.
4. Send a care package
By now, your mum friend has probably been gifted more muslin cloths and nappies than she knows what to do with. Instead, send her a package of lovely items that remind her that she matters too.
Some relaxing herbal teas, bath salts, magazines and a tub of body butter can encourage her to slow down and take 30 minutes to herself next time the baby is sleeping.
5. Volunteer to help out at home
It’s hard to keep on top of the household chores with a newborn. In the weeks and months after birth, offer to pop over and do the cleaning or make a trip to the supermarket on her behalf.
More likely than not, she’ll be thrilled to have someone take off the load. You could also arrange a doorstep drop of her favourite snacks or sweet treats so she has something to look forward to after a day of parenting.
6. Listen to her worries
If you know someone who recently had a baby and is struggling with their mental health, it can be difficult for them to talk openly about how they’re feeling.
The best thing you can do is to keep checking in, and to listen when she feels ready to chat.
Often she’ll just want someone to vent to about the emotional highs and lows of motherhood, but if you’ve taken the time to read up on perinatal mental health, you’ll know when it’s time to gently nudge her in the direction of professional support.