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  • Katie Parker

WE NEED TO DO BETTER FOR NEW MOTHERS AND THEIR BABIES

Updated: Mar 13

Something I hear a lot from the Mothers I work with is 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.


Someone told me recently how disempowered she felt after a session with a health professional. Wait, what?! Sometimes you may feel like you didn't get much out of an interaction with a health professional, but surely you shouldn't leave feeling disempowered?!


This often happens to 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 This is such outdated advice and not based on current evidence.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 Mothers for whom breastfeeding is the one thing going right for them being told to formula-feed to ‘fill their baby up, so they sleep longer,’ without an understanding of how important breastfeeding is to them, as the health professional hasn't even asked!


I also hear of Mothers being reprimanded 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 can assure you it is possible to put firm boundaries in place in a loving and respectful way without your kids being scared of you.


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 over 16 years and am also an Accredited Neuroprotective Development Care (also known as Possums) Practitioner (an evidence-based approach to caring for parents and babies based on the latest research in areas including infant sleep, attachment psychology, neuroscience 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 do we 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.

  • Share about health professionals you've felt supported by.

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


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


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.