Gaps in Provision
The postnatal gap
We asked people why they joined mums’ groups in our survey and again in interviews.
Many of the mums we heard from said they had attended antenatal classes, but then they experienced a ‘gap’ afterwards.
Suddenly they felt isolated and alone with the new baby. Although the healthcare services were still on the scene, for many this felt clinical, ‘about the baby’ and sometimes judgmental.
Those first weeks can be exhausting- physically and emotionally. Some new mums find looking after the baby is enough for them, without venturing out, whereas others crave the company of others.
However, this is harder to do in rural areas, as there is not so much going on and reaching them can be a logistical challenge. Some mums had attended NCT ‘Bumps and Babies’ on a rota at other mums’ houses, although some were put off by having to tidy their house and provide coffee for everyone.
In addition, some reported feeling ‘judged’ if they were bottle-feeding rather than breastfeeding at a mums’ and babies’ group.
Undoubtedly, we heard that peer support is very good for mental health. Many felt this to be a taboo subject, not covered in any great degree at antenatal classes, with the result that people only sought help when they reached crisis point – needing intervention via one-to-one counselling, medication or even hospitalisation. The message coming across clearly was that informal peer support for mums could play a preventative role, providing a safe place where mums could talk to others about their emotional issues and anxieties. The stigma around discussing ‘depression’ was something people felt should be addressed, perhaps via antenatal classes but as an acceptable generally recognised topic.
Some women suffer with extreme disturbance to their mental wellbeing around the time of pregnancy and becoming a mum. Very sadly, a small minority of women are so adversely affected that suicide features within Maternal morbidity rates.
Many mums we spoke to reported their lack of confidence and self-esteem in the perinatal period: ‘… And if not confident and vulnerable mentally, you’re less likely to reach out to people…you’re likely to retreat back into isolation…it shouldn’t be reliant on new mums to make those connections. They need support to enable wider connections…that definitely comes with peer support which can only happen within a good community.’
‘I was really lonely…no health visitor encouragement, not offered antenatal classes for any of them, never given any info whatsoever about them, probably on but not advertised, had drop-in/weekly appointments for high blood pressure…I was on high alert with this.’
What we heard was, for some mums, the right kind of peer support might be all they need to keep them feeling that things are ‘okay enough.’ This kind of preventative ‘intervention’ is where we believe informal peer support groups can play a key role.