By Dr Alison McClymont
As a mental health specialist with a keen interest in maternal mental health, nothing makes me sadder/madder than the lack of support we offer to new Mothers. In a world of insta-glam and momfluencers, new Mothers are more than ever before bombarded by images of perfection and messages of judgement.
To highlight this “pandemic of pressure”- I would like to share a story. When I lived in Asia I ran a support group for refugee women- predominantly from East Africa and Southern Asia, and whilst the subject of our group was trauma recovery- the talk turned to cultural views of Mothers and the Motherhood experience. I will never forget how the group sat open mouthed at my stories of Mothers in Western countries being expected to go through the postpartum stage alone. They couldn’t believe that we tell Mothers that “the fourth trimester” is not a “time of recovery, but a time of demand”. Whilst I enjoyed very much, hearing their experiences about sisterhood, and large groups of female family members and friends joining forces to support and care for new Mothers- I felt a little sad for my own experience a few years previously. I thought back to those first few weeks and realised how much easier they might have been if the society I lived in didn’t tell Mothers “you are on your own from here”, and if I had also had a network around me that says “you don’t have to do it all”.
So I made it a special area of interest of mine and my practice, to support and research ways to care for the mental health of new Mothers. One of the things my experience and research told me was the importance of the “sisterhood”- how crucial it was for Mothers to connect with other mothers and to find a sense of community in this new state of being.
There’s lots of ways new Mothers can care for their mental health- finding social interaction and community is one of the biggest, but unfortunately this can also be a precursor of poor mental health. For some mothers social interaction brings judgement and feelings of confusion and isolation. So in the spirit of lifting up the sisterhood, I’d like to share a few things NOT to say to new Mothers (Please Share!)
1.“These are the best days of your life- enjoy them, they go so quick”
How often have we heard this one? Yes. These are memorable days, yes, they are likely to be poignant and impactful days- but this does not mean they are necessarily the best days of your life. For some people the early days of motherhood- might be their worst. They are feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, lonely, hopeless, emotional and completely drained. Reminding someone of the societal pressure to appear “happy at all times” and more importantly… to appear and act completely self-LESSLY in a time when you yourself are in need of care, is not helpful.
Let’s say: “It’s a rollercoaster these days- but I’m here to listen if you need me”
2.“You know you really should be sleep training/attachment parenting/ breast feeding/ bottle feeding”
One more time and loudly for the people in the back…. someone else’s choice in relation to how they choose to care for their child is not your concern or business. Yes of course it’s important that we as a society look out for signs of ill treatment or neglect, but let’s be honest how many of these “you should” statements are actually coming from a place of preventing child abuse? And how many are actually coming from a desire to impart views/opinions/perceived wisdom/experience on someone who hasn’t asked for it? I firmly believe that societal pressure on Mothers and the belligerent messaging around schedules/sleep/feeding patterns play a significant role in the creation of PND. Too often we are leaving Mothers to suffer in silence and forcing yet more pressure upon them when they ask for help, as opposed to support
Let’s say: “You look like you are doing a great job, let me know if I can help you with anything”
3.“I never had that problem with my children”
Unfortunately with age comes not only experience but also a sudden development of rose tinted glasses. Too often friends and relatives when faced with a new mother, relate their own experiences to that Mother in a judgmental, unhelpful way. Comments such as “my child never did that…” “I didn’t have that problem because I…” is unlikely to feel supportive or kind. It’s likely to feel humiliating and isolating- so don’t do it.
Let’s say: “All children are different and you are the expert of yours”
4.“ Are you going to eat/drink that?”
For those of your who thought that other people’s interest in the things you put in your body stopped once the baby came out…I’ve got news for you- sometimes it doesn’t. So similarly to the advice on keeping schtum about feeding/sleep scheduling choices- no one needs to hear “advice” on whether or not they should be drinking alcohol, eating certain types of food or adhering to certain diets. For 9 months a woman’s body has very likely not felt her own and has been subjected to invasive medical exams, a birth and possibly a period of breastfeeding- this is not the time to add further scrutiny and judgement. A mother may be struggling with her sense of self and body image at this difficult time and will very likely not take kindly to “friendly advice”.
Let’s say: Nothing :)
5. “Insert here any comment AT ALL related to baby weight/postpartum body”
No one is more aware of the changes pregnancy and birth has on her body, than a new mother. She may be living with all manner of hangovers from birth such as stitches, pelvic floor injuries, abdominal separation, mastitis the list goes on. No Mother needs anyone to comment on their appearance or body, other than a simple:
“you look beautiful”
Dr Alison McClymont is a leading child psychotherapist with over a decade’s worth of experience at the forefront of the industry. She is the author of children’s book ‘Wilbur’s Memory Box.’ Keep up-to-date with Dr Alison McClymont on Instagram @alisonmcclymontinsta