When 'Exhausted New Mum' Is A Halloween Costume, How Are We Getting Postnatal Support So Wrong?

A photo that spread like wildfire online shows a young girl, dressed in a baggy sweat shirt and jogging bottoms, dark circles under her eyes, baby sick on her shoulder and looking thoroughly glum.
Highwaystarz-Photography via Getty Images

Halloween 2016 will go down in history as the year that the "New Mom" Halloween costume went viral.

A photo that spread like wildfire online shows a young girl, dressed in a baggy sweat shirt and jogging bottoms, dark circles under her eyes, baby sick on her shoulder and looking thoroughly glum.

For many news outlets, it was the image of the day.

But is it really okay to associate new mothers with fatigued, weary, puke-stained misery?

In the same week, our beloved pop star Adele gave an interview to Vanity Fair magazine in which she came clean about her own struggles with postnatal depression following the birth of her first child. She spoke out about feelings of 'inadequacy' as a mum and revealed how her experiences had left her scared to have another baby.

Unfortunately, Adele's heart-wrenching words are ones that I'm being told more and more in my work as a midwife.

And I desperately want that to change.

In May this year the Royal College of Midwives reported how 68% of the health visitors they surveyed had seen an increase in postnatal depression over the last two years. That's hopefully, in part, due to the fact that we are talking about the condition more openly.

But in reality, as with all forms of mental illness, the true numbers will never reflect the volume of people that suffer in silence.

Shockingly, suicide is the second largest cause of death of mothers.

But Why?

So much emphasis is put onto care antenatally and during labour, which is great.

But not when it is to the detriment of postnatal care.

To save time and money, the postnatal baby care and breastfeeding element of parent education has been removed from many NHS education programmes, as it's deemed 'stuff we will teach you once baby is here'.

Yet mothers are frequently discharged from hospital within 24 hours of giving birth, even after a caesarean section. Mums are sent home before feeling confident with things like feeding, bathing or changing.

And once mum has left the hospital, postnatal care is again kept to the absolute bear minimum.

Visits are reduced to when a test is needed or a weight is required. Other 'visits' get replaced by a tick-list phone conversation, and the majority of women are discharged after only 10 days.

Where's the care and support there?

After a couple of weeks at home with baby, the midwives have disappeared, dad has gone back to work, and the adrenaline rush has died down. Now mum is tired.

Daytime television and magazines bombard them with images of smiling celebrity mums back in their jeans and with their hair freshly blow-dried. There's enormous pressure from society to breastfeed, but 'not in public'.

No wonder some mums end up housebound and feeling very anxious.

And it doesn't take a specialist to spot the easy downward spiral that goes from the 'baby blues', descending into full-blown postnatal depression.

How can you help yourself?

Don't rush to leave the hospital before you are ready. Make sure you feel confident with feeding baby, whether you are using breast or bottle.

Look at putting extra support in place - private midwifery care may be an option for some and involves six weeks of postnatal care with visits whenever you want.

Breastfeeding charities, such as La Leche League, have councillors available in some areas.

Most of all, look after yourself. Don't do too much too soon.

Let other people do things for you, such as cooking and cleaning. If you don't have much family support, spend the last few months of pregnancy filling your freezer with easy meals that just need re-heating. And realise that the housework can wait.

The most important thing is that you and baby are well, emotionally and physically.

If you do feel down please talk to someone - a friend, your partner, a midwife, health visitor or your GP. Remember that the sleeplessness does improve, it's not forever.

And, quite simply, enjoy your baby, because they grow up too quickly.

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