Support for new parents vital for better mental health

  • Lifestyle
  • November 16, 2015
Image: Annie Theby

In the excitement following a birth, the baby often become the focus of attention; and the needs of new parents can be overlooked – even by those people nearest to them.

Jane Fisher, the Jean Hailes Professor of Women’s Health at Monash University says all parents who have recently had a baby need support and encouragement from loved ones in order to boost their confidence as parents and protect their mental health.

“It is normal to feel worried, irritable and tearful some of the time,” says Professor Fisher, “but if these are the main feelings a new parent experiences most of the time and there are no moments of joy, then it is worth consulting a health professional.”

In Australia about one in 10 women will experience depression and/or anxiety during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth. While rates are much lower among men, many men can feel worried, in particular about the responsibilities for their family’s financial security. Some men deal with worries by using alcohol and up to one in four can drink too much.

“The good news is that mental health can be protected by supportive relationships with family and friends,” says Professor Fisher.

“There is a saying that ‘the birth of a baby is also the birth of a parent. Just like new babies, parents also have to learn new skills, and it is very important for them to have opportunities to discuss things they feel uncertain about with people they trust.”

Ways to support a new parent

For partners:

  • Be actively involved in caring for your baby
  • Share the increased household work such as laundry, cleaning and meals in ways that feel fair
  • Listen to each other’s needs – be kind and encouraging
  • Avoid criticism – it really undermines confidence
  • Help manage visitors who are keen to see you and meet the baby so you don’t become overtired
  • Support each other in having some time away from day-to-day responsibilities

For family and friends:

  • Be upfront in offering help – most new parents find it difficult to ask for help with practical tasks, but this can really help
  • Offer to pick up an older child from childcare, buy groceries, prepare a meal or hang out the washing
  • Invite them to tell you how they are finding things and help to work out solutions to difficulties
  • Help them to find ways to make new friends at the same life stage
  • Give lots of praise and encouragement

Good ideas and strategies for new parents

  • Everyone finds it challenging to learn how to care well for a baby and manage your home – you are not alone in finding this challenging
  • Ask a maternal and child health nurse for practical advice, such as how to establish a feed-play-sleep routine of care for your baby
  • Talk to your partner about how to share the increased workload at home – avoid criticising each other
  • The baby benefits from receiving care – including bathing, nappy changing and settling – from both parents
  • Accept practical help from friends and family
  • Identify what you miss from how life used to be and work out how you can begin to replace that activity or interest, maybe in a changed way.

For more information visit the Jean Hailes What Were We Thinking program.

For information on postnatal depression go to www.panda.org.au

Published with the permission of Jean Hailes for Women’s Health