Looking After Mum: Maternal mental health

Sometimes motherhood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, so how can we help new mums? LAURA TRETHEWAY offers some practical suggestions.

We spend so much time preparing for the birth of our babies, but it’s often the first few months after delivery – the so-called ‘fourth trimester’ – that turns out to be the most difficult. Parenthood comes with a series of major adjustments, both physical and psychological, so it’d be surprising if new mums didn’t feel overwhelmed!

The team at Baby Bonding have heard it all, with many women reporting that they find the first few months with a newborn much more challenging than birth. Traditional antenatal classes focus on bubs and their birth – but not on the journey mothers go through in becoming a parent. Baby Bonding host workshops focusing on the transition into motherhood and the mental-emotional journey women go through in the fourth trimester.  

Here in Aotearoa, one in seven women experience a perinatal mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety, either during pregnancy or postpartum. We need to open up about the struggles of motherhood – especially because maternal suicide is the leading cause of maternal death in New Zealand. 

Knowing all of this, it can be hard to know what to do – or how to help. It tends to bring up feelings of guilt, but it’s essential for new mums to prioritise self-care. The old adage is true: you can’t look after someone else unless you’re looking after yourself. The better you feel, the more you’ll enjoy being a parent, so taking care of your mental and physical health, and your relationships with whānau is vital. Whether that means going for a walk with a friend, taking a bath, or watching The Bachelor, take time out for yourself and don’t feel guilty about it.

For new parents, it’s important to take the pressure off and not expect too much of yourself. Becoming a mum brings massive change, but the most important thing is connecting with your new baby – not feeling like a super mum. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it, because you’re not alone if you’re feeling like it’s all a bit much. 

Being a mother is an incredible journey, but it’s also really hard – and it’s about time we acknowledged that.

How to help Mum

Sometimes it’s hard to know how to help, so we’ve gathered a few fool-proof options…

  • Surprise her with sleep: looking after bub for a few hours while she gets some shut-eye can make a world
    of difference!
  • Give her home a spruce up: it’s so much easier to cocoon with your new baby when your environment is cosy. Giving the gift of a cleaning service, or chipping in to tidy up is a wonderful gift. 
  • Drop off some kai: it’s always a treat to have dinner ready to heat and eat, or a special batch of homemade slices to get you through those sleepless nights. 
  • Book in a catch-up: it isn’t just the baby who needs love and attention – mum does too!
  • Remind her you’re thinking of her: it’s easy to doubt yourself in the early days of motherhood – so sending a quick text saying ‘you’re doing great’ can mean a lot. 
  • DIY date-night: book yourself in as babysitter and give mum a night off to go out with her partner, friend or just have a night to herself. 
  • Pop around to help out: it’s the little things that make a big difference, like bringing over a coffee or taking five minutes to load up the dishwasher while you’re visiting – she’ll love you for it. 

babybonding.nz