With seventeen years' experience as an early motherhood Psychologist, Dr Renée Miller shares her insights into what new mums really want on Mothers' Day.
"No gift compares to words of appreciation, acknowledgement and love" says Renée. "There’s nothing quite like a beautiful card with heartfelt words". So Dads and partners, looking for ideas for Mothers' Day, this is what mums want to hear:
Thank you for carrying our child, enduring the changes and discomforts of pregnancy, and for your tenacity and strength in giving birth to our baby. You were amazing.
Thank you for thinking of our child’s well being 24/7, and for constantly anticipating what he/she might need ahead of time. I can only imagine how tiring this must be.
Thank you for nourishing our child with food, love and tenderness.
Thank you for the countless hours you’ve been barely awake tending to our baby alone at night.
Thank you for playing games and entertaining our child even though there are so many other things you’d like to be doing (like sleeping).
Thank you for pushing through your exhaustion and for being there when things aren’t easy.
Thank you for diligently inquiring or reading about parenting practices to be the best mum you can be.
Thank you for guiding me in my parenting (even if it comes out a little impatiently sometimes). I know you have our child's interests at heart.
Thank you for the mammoth adjustment you’ve made to becoming a mother, for letting go of so much of the old you, and for going through re-defining yourself as a woman and a mother.
Thank you for all that you do to make our house a home.
[Words of love…..]
[Pledge to give Mum time-out to rejuvenate, time to catch up on sleep, and time together to nurture your relationship.]
[A gift won't go astray. Just not one that's related to housework, cooking, caring for others... you get the idea]
Dr Renée Miller is the Principal Clinical Psychologist and Founder of the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network
Mothers’ Day can be tinged with sadness and pain. For women desperately wanting to be mothers. The agonizing torment associated with assisted reproduction and infertility. Hopelessness. Self-blame. Isolation. Fear about an unfulfilled future. Mothers’ Day can accentuate this despair.
For women who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, or the later loss of a child. Mothers’ Day can be torturous.
And for women, who have lost their mothers (or other loved ones), a myriad of mixed emotions may be present whilst experiencing a ‘celebration’ of their own motherhood.
Whatever your pain on Mothers’ Day, wishing you the self-love and compassion to nurture yourself, and to allow yourself to be cared for.
With the warmest of thoughts
Dr Renée Miller
Principal Clinical Psychologist
Sometimes, research confirms what we already suspect. Time out is good for mothers’ mental health.
Perinatal Psychologist and researcher, Dr Hannah Woolhouse, has worked on the Maternal Health Study for nearly 15 years. This study was conducted in Melbourne Australia, by the Healthy Mothers Healthy Families research group at Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. Over 1500 women joined the study in early pregnancy, and were followed up with questionnaires after the birth. Hannah describes for us what the study found about time out in the early postnatal period.
What did the study find?
At 6 months postpartum, around 1 in 6 women reported that they NEVER had time for themselves, when someone else looked after their baby.
There was a strong connection between time for self, and the prevalence of depression. The rate of depression steadily increasedas the frequency of time for self decreased. The lowest prevalence of depression was 6% for women who had time for themselves once a week or more.
Comparatively, the prevalence of depression was 15 % (almost three times higher) in women who neverhad time for themselves.
Even after taking into account other associated factors (such as having a supportive partner),women who had time out at least once a week were less likely to report depressive symptoms at 6 months postpartum. In other words, whether women are in a relationship or not, and whether or not they have good emotional and practical support, getting weekly time-out appears to improve mental wellbeing
What sorts of things did women do when they had time for them self?
In the Maternal Health Study, the most commonly reported activity was doing the supermarket shopping – not something you would necessarily think of as relaxing! Other activities commonly reported were going out with their partner, having a long bath or shower, going to the hairdresser, or putting their feet up and watching TV. We suspect that what women do when they have time for themselves may not matter so much as that someone else looks after the baby for a period of time – meaning that women get a break from that responsibility, and a chance to recharge their batteries.
What’s the take-home message?
We know that the majority of childcare responsibilities still fall to women. The more equally partners canshare the demands of looking after a new baby, the healthier mothers will be. Ensuring that women get regular and frequent time out from the demands of caring for a new baby is a simple and effective way of promoting good maternal mental health.
While this is a simple option, it is not necessarily easy, as it requires the support and input of others. Partners, family and friends play an important role in encouraging women to take time for themselves, giving them permission to take time out from being with their baby, and helping to look after the baby for a period of time.
A common block for mums is the belief that they “should do it all” and cope with the demands of caring for a new baby on their own. These beliefs make asking for help difficult.
In my clinical work, as part of the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network, I strongly encourage women to challenge these beliefs, as looking after their own emotional health is one of the best things they can do for themselves and their children.
Dr Hannah Woolhouse is a Perinatal Psychologist with the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network. Hannah is located in Mornington and Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsula.
Social media is a quick and easy resource for busy new parents. The challenge is finding reputable sites that don't promote extreme (and often contradictory) parenting advice that can leave parents feeling confused and inadequate.
The Facebook page of the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network provides a community resource for expectant and new parents. Articles curated by Dr Renée Miller (Principal Clinical Psychologist) are posted with a knowledge of the evidence base, and seventeen years experience in supporting women and couples through the common challenges associated with new parenthood.
Our aim is to promote practical positive parenting strategies with a focus on connection, as well as to maintain a culture of self-care, self-compassion and 'good-enough' parenting.
We are delighted that our following has grown to over 4000 people, as parents engage with our page in their pursuit of perinatal well-being and positive parenting strategies.
Thank you to the perinatal professionals who follow our page and who share our articles with their clients and patients.
Here is a link to our page: www.facebook.com/antenatal.postnatal.psychology/
Guilt is a common but wasted emotion. It often comes about from trying to be a perfect mother when perfection does not exist. When guilt pops up, check in with what your guilt is telling you. Does it come from overly high expectations, or from an inner knowing that something is not sitting well with you? Explore it, make choices in line with what you value, but don't let guilt govern your sense of self. Get to know who you are, what matters to you, and what you want for your child/ren. Trying to be a perfect mother does not help anyone. If you are feeling guilty much of the time, this could be a symptom of depression, and it might help to check in with your GP or a therapist if your mood is low.
Take stock of the pace in which you are operating. Does it seem like there are endless tasks on your 'to do' list? You don't have time to sit down? You are constantly rushing? Do you feel stressed by the deadline of your baby’s due date?
We can fall into the trap of just keeping on going – trying to get everything done before bubs comes along. Stop...slow down. Add "time-out" to your 'to do' list. No one can just keep going. Allow your 'to do' list to roll over each day. Slow down the pace in which you are moving. Listen to what your body needs, take breaks, and spend time tuning in to your baby.
It's important to restore our systems. Ironically, this allows us to get more done. Look realistically at what could be done after the baby is born. Does it all have to be done now? If you are feeling out of control, your sleep is disturbed from stress, or you feel that your stress levels are just too high, seek help.
We are delighted to welcome Dr Angela Gent to the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network in Ballarat. Women and their families in Ballarat and surrounding areas now have access to specialised perinatal counselling support.
Dr Angela Gent is a Clinical Psychologist whose research interests have included parental depression, anxiety, stress and fatigue. With specialist training in perinatal mental health, Angela works with couples experiencing fertility problems, pregnant women, new parents, and parents who have sadly experienced the loss of a baby. Angela treats depression, anxiety, stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress following childbirth, and parenting difficulties.
Angela is a warm and caring Psychologist who is dedicated to using evidence-based treatments that can help women, men and couples through the challenges of the childbearing years. Angela is looking forward to being actively involved in providing perinatal professional development opportunities to multi-disciplinary practitioners in Ballarat. Watch this space.
We warmly welcome Angela to our team.
The analytics are in. The 3800+ followers of the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network Facebook Page have voted for their favourite parenting articles by responding to our posts.
To find out which articles were the most popular in 2017, we analysed readers' reactions and shares, and evaluated the total numbers of people our posts reached.
Posts on our Facebook page are judiciously selected by Perinatal Clinical Psychologist, Dr Renée Miller.
Posts cover topics that are of interest and of benefit to expectant and new parents, and to parents facing the common challenges associated with toddlers and young children. Out of the many topics listed below, find out which articles ranked in the top 7.
Topics our Facebook Page covers
So, out of all these topics, which articles made the top 7?
At Number 7:
The Silent Tragedy Affecting Today's Children
At Number 6:
11 Things to Say When Kids Cry
At Number 5:
Bringing Home Another Baby: Six months in, a mom reflects on double duty parenting
At Number 4:
Bereaved Mother's Day: Acknowledging mums who have lost babies
At Number 3:
How a Parent's Affection Shapes a Child's Happiness for Life
At Number 2:
Why is Mommy Tired?
At Number 1, the most popular article in 2017:
10 Rules for Visiting a New Mom
If you are interested in articles such as these, we would love you to follow our Facebook page, and to share this resource with your friends!
May you find contentment and meaning in 2018,
The psychologists from the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network
"I feel like I have no control over my life"
"The 'to do' list never ends"
"I can't seem to finish anything I start"
"My toddler is ruling the roost"
"I'm trying so hard to be a good parent but I'm worried that I'm not"
Parenthood is stressful. The responsibilities and demands of a baby, toddler (or both), the sleep deprivation, the loss of freedom, the loss of control, and the never-ending 'to do list' can be overwhelming and stress inducing. Not to mention the emotional investment in wanting to parent a child who will feel safe and secure in the world, with a high emotional intelligence and a resilience to facing life's challenges. It's a big gig!
Some new parents seek help to manage postnatal depression and/or postnatal anxiety. However many new parents seek help simply to manage stress. Often motivated by wanting to be the best parents they can be, parents recognise when they are operating in a revved up state. Their sleep can be affected, and they may notice symptoms of irritability, being overly touchy or sensitive, snappy, and generally not being able to wind down. Parents often report that their stress is most apparent in their relationship with their spouse, and/or in an increasing impatience with their children.
There is a vast literature and much media attention educating the public on postnatal depression and more recently, postnatal anxiety. However for parents who are stressed this focus on depression and anxiety can result in a hesitation towards help-seeking in the absence of a depressed mood or an anxiety disorder. Postnatal stress can cause significant upset in families, and evidence-based treatments for stress can bring about welcomed symptom relief.
So what is the difference between depression, anxiety and stress? According to the authors and researchers of the Depression, Anxiety Stress Scales (Lovibond & Lovibond, 1995) depression, anxiety and stress can co-occur, however each state has its unique symptoms. Depression symptoms include feeling negative, down-hearted, gloomy, unmotivated, dispirited, and a loss of enjoyment in things once pleasurable. Anxiety includes physiological symptoms of panic, pounding heart, shakiness, fear of losing control, and apprehension. Stress includes nervousness, jumpiness, tension, getting easily upset or irritated, and difficulty relaxing.
The Psychologists at the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network (APPN) commonly use the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS-21) - a well validated screening tool that helps new parents to understand their particular symptoms. In our experience, new parents like to understand their symptoms using the DASS-21, and they find it useful to track their symptoms over time to see how they are progressing with therapy. Although scores on the DASS can delineate symptom severity and a measure of progress over time, clinical diagnoses (if relevant) require further assessment by the psychologist to ensure that appropriate treatment strategies are implemented in therapy.
Treatment for stress typically involves a combination of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness based therapies. These approaches give parents tools for understanding how their thinking - expectations, appraisals and worry - contribute to their difficulties (thinking being a modifiable component in managing stress). In addition parents learn to manage their responses (physical and behavioural) in relation to life stressors and to their own fears. Practical strategies for managing daily routines can form part of the work, as well as sorting through family of origin dynamics that may underly one's problematic thinking and stress levels in the early parenting years. Learning how to wind down and relax is fundamental to this therapy for stressed new parents and parents of young children.
Written by Dr Renée Miller
Principal Clinical Psychologist
Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network
In many ways, new fathers appear to have it easy. They are spared the physical and emotional discomfort of pregnancy. They don’t endure the pain of childbirth. They also don’t spend the weeks and months of new fatherhood trying to get used to a body that has inextricably changed and no longer feels familiar. While men don’t have the physical signs to show for it, the transition to fatherhood is no less profound, exhilarating, and daunting. In my work with new parents, I am often reminded that the feelings and worries experienced by dads can be somewhat overlooked. What’s more, a lot of men have trouble talking about them.
What is my Role?
Some fathers question their roles in the early weeks and months, when typically mothers are the primary caregivers. As a new father it’s easy to feel a bit left out. However, research tells us that fathers’ relationships with their newborns make a significant impact right from birth. Actually, it starts long before birth, because babies begin to recognise their father’s voice at around 22 weeks of pregnancy. So when that bump starts to grow, it’s time to get talking.
The most important thing dads can do for their newborns is to simply spend time with them – cuddling, rocking, talking, singing, and settling. Getting to know each other in a hands-on way is good for everyone. For inexperienced dads, on the job training is the best confidence and relationship builder of all. And the benefits for babies are vast. Several studies suggest the quality and quantity of baby-father involvement directly impacts language development and children’s sense of security growing up. There is also research showing that babies with strong attachments to their dads tend to have fewer behavioural problems later on.
Not surprisingly, research also tells us that when mothers view their partners as competent - when they provide encouragement, and believe that parenting is a joint venture - men are more likely to be involved and value their roles as fathers. The key is mothers viewing their partners as competent. This is an issue many couples struggle with, and it comes up regularly in my work with new parents. Because mothers tend to spend more time with their newborns than their partners do, they clock up many more practice opportunities, and can feel that the way they have learnt to do things is the only way. So whether it’s changing nappies, settling a fussy baby, or managing the bath routine, dads can easily get left behind in the skill development stakes. An all too frequent result can be mums hovering on the sidelines offering unsolicited advice, or worse, taking over and doing it ‘properly’ themselves. The result? Dads can feel inadequate, resentful, and less motivated to try the next time. The impact of not letting dads learn on the job can be mums feeling unsupported.
Where has my relationship gone?
Becoming parents calls for huge adjustments in relationships. Changes in roles, workloads and finances, not to mention the sheer exhaustion of caring for a baby. These pressures can impact even rock solid partnerships. Worries about how a baby may or has changed their relationship are among the most frequent concerns voiced to me by fathers.
Some fathers experience feelings of helplessness as they watch their partners overwhelmed by tiredness, or having difficulties breastfeeding. Some women experience postnatal depression, and dads often feel at a loss as to how to ‘fix it’, feeling inadequate that they are not being able to make everything OK.
For other dads, it’s the loss of emotional connection that has been chipped away by the constant tension of tiredness and frayed patience. They can feel like they’ve lost their best friend amidst the unfamiliarity and daily grind early parenthood can bring.
Some fathers talk about feeling in competition with their babies - for time, attention, and affection. Even while understanding their partner’s all-encompassing focus on their baby, dads can feel invisible or fearful that there’s not enough love to go around.
The reality of course, is that the birth of a baby can test even the strongest relationships. Even good relationships can stumble under the weight of it all. But the good news is that the overwhelming majority tend to bounce back again once everyone is getting more sleep, things settle down, and issues like sharing the workload are resolved.
Remember, parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time and practice for both of you to adjust to being mum and dad, to learn the ropes, and to find space in there for each other. Here are some points to consider:
· Communicate with each other. It’s a vital ingredient in sharing your worries and doubts, asking for support, and working as a team
· Practice empathy which means being open to each other’s experiences and feelings, especially the ones that are different to yours
· Avoid competing about who has it tougher – nobody wins this one and it’s a certain resentment builder
· Seek professional support if worries become too big, anxiety or low mood become habitual states, or you need help adjusting to the change. Remember, dads experience postnatal depression and anxiety too.
This post was written by Dr Karola Belton
Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network
Posted by Dr Renée Miller