• Katie Parker


Updated: Sep 2

Something is breaking my heart and filling me with rage at the moment.

It’s that there are people in helping professions doing the opposite of helping.

Mothers are walking out of appointments with health professionals feeling worse than when they went in.

I have clients who tell me how disempowered they feel after conversations with said health professionals. Yes, that is the word they use – DISEMPOWERED.

These are mothers who intuitively follow their baby’s lead, doing whatever works to get them through each day and night, who are then told they are setting up bad habits and creating a rod for their own back.

Mothers are being told to ‘make’ their baby sleep in a cot, lengthen their naps, not let the baby fall asleep at the breast, put the baby down ‘drowsy but awake’, and so the list goes on. This is such outdated advice and not based on current evidence. Mothers are receiving this advice without being asked if what they are currently doing works for them. There’s often a whole lot of judgment thrown in there too.

There are breastfeeding mothers for whom breastfeeding is the ‘one thing going right’ being told to formula-feed to ‘fill their baby up, so they sleep longer,’ without being asked how important breastfeeding is to that mother.

There are mothers being made to feel like bad parents for treating their children with respect and for being responsive to their needs - being told they are ‘too soft’ with their children – and that children need to fear their parents, or else their children will grow up with ‘no respect or boundaries’. I am a social worker and parent educator. I can tell you it is totally possible to put firm boundaries in place in a loving and respectful way without your kids fearing you.

I cannot list all the disempowering things my clients have been told recently, honestly; the list goes on and on.

How can this be happening?

This must stop.

But how?

I have been told I cannot leave my brochures in waiting rooms, because it is against their policy to promote a private business. But then I have women who come to me in crisis, four to five months postpartum, saying ‘I wish I knew about you when I was pregnant – why aren’t we told people like you exist?’

I care about how women experience their postpartum period. Having or not having the right support in place can make or break this crucial time in a woman’s life, and the effects can ripple out for generations.

I have been a social worker for almost 15 years and am also trained in Neuroprotective Development Care (also known as Possums), an approach to caring for parents and babies based on the latest research in areas including infant sleep and maternal mental health. I know that a lot of the advice being provided by many trusted health professional is outdated, based on first wave behaviourist approaches of the 1950s and damaging to the mother/infant bond. Heartbroken mothers, racked with guilt for being responsive to their baby’s needs, tell me stories of receiving this type of advice almost every day.

So what to do about it?

If you receive advice from a health professional that leaves you doubting yourself, you can:

  • Ask them what evidence they are basing their advice on.

  • Tell them how their advice has made you feel.

  • Seek support from elsewhere.

As Pinky McKay suggests, ask yourself ‘Is it safe? Does it feel right? Is it respectful?’

Things will not change unless we speak up.

This is important.

Mothers need to feel supported in their parenting, and many do not.

I wish the support that I (and others doing this work) provide was available to everyone (there are many health professionals out there providing amazing support and advice based on current research). I honestly believe that if this were the case, our postnatal mental health statistics would look very different. Instead, some mothers are being given advice that sends them on a spiral further into postnatal depression and anxiety, guilt and self-doubt.

This must change.