Taking time out from your career to be with your baby – whether for a period of paid parental leave or longer – can come as a shock to many new mothers. At a time you most need a team of supportive co-workers, you find yourself in a brand new workplace where you don’t know anyone else!
Most of us focus on the new baby as we plan for the changes after the birth of our first child, but parents also face huge social changes, which can come as quite a shock. Distance from family, close friends still in the full-time workforce and neighbourhoods eerily quiet during daylight hours can lead to feelings of loneliness and fear.
Psychologists talk about “social connectedness” as an important aid to good mental health. Just as we need a network of work colleagues to bounce ideas off, vent frustrations and guide you through new procedures, new parents need a similar network to support them in their new career of raising a child.
By creating your network of community – much like the village of old – you can not only avoid isolation and loneliness but lay the foundation for your child’s own network.
Here are 6 six ways that you can seek out to build and grow your support network:
#1: Seeking Out Mentors
Are there people in your existing social network whose parenting style you admire? Work colleagues, family members or even friends of friends can guide you on your journey and link you into their own communities and support networks. You will be surprised how news of your pregnancy or new arrival will travel and people who may have only had slight interaction with through a social media connection may be only too happy to take you under their wing.
#2 Your Family Doctor
In the past, most families had a doctor who handled all their health needs and maintained not only a relationship but also records of everyone’s medical history. These days, many adults attend large clinics where they rarely see the same doctor twice. For the occasional medical certificate for work or prescription repeat, this works well. But once your baby arrives, you might appreciate a consistent medical adviser to care for your child and yourself.
With so many options, finding the right practitioner for you might seem a bit like a needle in a haystack! Word of mouth can help you here – ask family and friends, your midwife or obstetrician, allied health professionals like your physiotherapist or even the staff at your local pharmacy for recommendations. You might like to make an appointment to discuss family health with a few doctors on your short-list to help see who will best suit you.
You can find out how easy it is to get an appointment, what they offer after-hours, and what other services might be available at the clinic.
By researching and establishing contact before your baby arrives, you will feel less stressed when faced with a bout of mastitis or if you want to get a baby rash checked in the early days after the birth. Bear in mind though that if you do have breastfeeding problems, most doctors do not have formal breastfeeding training, so a lactation consultant or the Australian Breastfeeding Association will be an important first port of call.
#3 Breastfeeding Support
Most Australian women set out to breastfeed their babies – around 96% are doing so when they leave hospital. Continuing to meet their breastfeeding goals may then rely on what support they have access to in their community. This is definitely one area where doing your homework before baby arrives can make a huge difference.
The second trimester might seem a long way from your baby’s first days at the breast, but it's the perfect time to connect with the Australian Breastfeeding Association and book into one of their breastfeeding education classes, held especially for expectant parents planning to breastfeed. The class package also includes membership to the association and your local breastfeeding support group.
As well as the ABA and their breastfeeding helpline, you might need the services of an IBCLC lactation consultant. Some IBCLCs are employed by hospitals or community health services at no cost to you, while others work in private practice and provide their services for a fee (which may or may not be covered by private health insurance). So doing some research on what is available in your local community, how much you might need to pay and what – if any – hospital services like a breastfeeding drop-in, lactation day stay or other support you can expect to access. You can find a local IBCLC through groups like LCANZ.
#4 Social Support
Even though it might seem easier to stay at home, getting out and meeting other new mothers is really important for your mental health. It also allows you and your baby to build your social network. You might be surprised just how much choice there is out there – from babywearing groups to mother and baby yoga classes or pram walking groups!
But it isn’t all about your social needs – babies need to get out and explore their world too. You’ll find infants are very welcome at your local library story time, organised playgroups, music classes, swimming classes and more. Not only will your baby love the stimulation and activity but you will meet other parents. Some sessions are held on weekends, so working parents can also get involved.
You will find parents groups on Facebook, by searching Google, or even just reading the notices on the board while you wait to see the child health nurse! Most will welcome you along before your baby is born. Trying a few options is a great way to fill time once you start maternity leave.
#5 Emotional Support
For most parents, a new baby brings joy, fatigue and a lot of adjustment. Yet for some, it also brings depression and anxiety.
Data from the 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey showed that 1 in 5 mothers of children aged 24 months or less had been diagnosed with depression. More than half of these mothers reported that their diagnosed depression was perinatal (that is, the depression was diagnosed from pregnancy until the child’s first birthday).
However, it's not only women who experience mental health issues following the arrival of a baby. Fathers can also experience emotional changes.
“The prevalence of PND among men is not clear and is given little recognition. Many of the experiences of becoming a parent also present challenges for men and PND is a reality for some. Often partners are suffering in silence; perhaps with even less strategies or supports for dealing with how they feel. It's important that they receive the same assessment and treatment as recommended for women.”
Contact with other parents can help you get things into perspective and provide support. If you find you are crying more than your baby, you will need help. Postnatal depression IS treatable, the sooner the better. Add a postnatal depression support group to your list, just in case, like PANDA or Beyond Blue in Australia, or Postpartum Support International.
#6 Dads Need Networks Too!
Despite clichés about mothers clubs, modern fathers are also seeking out support.
BellyBelly Co-Editor and Men’s Editor Darren Mattock explains:
“It’s not a cultural norm for men to create and share a support network with other men, but I’m working to change that. New dads need support, and other new dads are some of their best teachers and resources. In the Becoming Dad – Dads Only Facebook group, expectant, new and veteran dads post questions, shares and resources on masculinity, fatherhood, relationships, child development and more. It’s an amazing space that continues to bring men together from around the world in a safe, sealed ‘dads only’ container to share the fatherhood journey with. It’s masculine and fatherhood gold!
Of course, it’s both valuable and necessary for dads to also have in-person opportunities to be engaged, educated and supported. These aren’t too common and can take some searching for. As a new dad, I was quite fortunate that I had something local to me. I used to take my son Charlie to a Dads & Kids Playgroup every Monday. It was held in a Scout Hall that was set up as a playgroup space with both indoor and outdoor activity spaces for the kids. We would all contribute to a morning tea. Sometimes guest speakers were arranged. Most importantly, we had the opportunity to connect, talk, ask, share and just hang out for a while with our kids. It was fantastic. I’m excited to see organisations like City Dads Group emerge as this is a great model for the type of community-based support that dads need.”
So guys, do your own homework and find a group for you – online, in community or both! Also, check out our article on the 8 Best Facebook Pages For Dads and Dads-To-Be.
BellyBelly's Forums Have Baby Groups Too!
Don’t forget to join in on the Baby Buddies Groups in the BellyBelly Forums! You’ll find lots of mums and dads who've had their babies in the same month as you. They plan regular meetups and it’s a great opportunity to start your new network.