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.