Maternal wellbeing and mental health…. and paternal also. Let’s say actually that this is about “parent/caregiver wellbeing and mental health”.
Feeling a bit: “cabin fever”, hemmed in, fed up, stressed, low (depressed even)? – how to reduce these experiences somewhat during maternity leave or on an every day basis?
….do stuff. Sounds simple but I know that it isn’t always especially if one is stuck in a vicious negative cycle of low mood, lack of energy and motivation, overwhelming feelings.
Depending on your psychological stance, and mine believes in behavioural and cognitive theories, amongst others, there is a link between what you do, what you think, and how you feel. If you make changes to one of these areas (feelings, thoughts, behaviours), it will impact on the other areas. Doing stuff is therefore important because it will impact on your feelings and thoughts. This is a general Cognitive-Behavioural stance (see any references by Aaron T Beck, Christine Padesky, or just Google cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for more on this).
Getting out and doing stuff is important because:
It gives structure to your day.
- People usually like structure, the reliability of a weekly timetable where you know what to expect, when to expect it and to have certain anchor points to the week, for example, knowing that on Friday afternoon you go to that baby sensory class and see your friend the Nanny who looks after P the baby who is 4 months older than the Little Lovely.
You can plan enjoyable and meaningful activities, one gains a sense of achievement, mastery, accomplishment.
There are physical benefits such as getting more exercise, energy expenditure
- increased opportunity to talk to other mothers/parents/carers and to share and make normal (normalize) issues and experiences. increased opportunity to talk about and therefore learn and share your collective knowledge, experience and resources that you have built up from from your experience as a parent or carer. For example, the Nanny who looks after P the baby tells me about teething and comments on LL’s physical development and what she notices has changed from the last time she has seen him. She has cared for several children in her career so what she tells me is nice to hear because I have only cared for one child for a relatively short period of time!
The cost of those baby classes can add up. Some ideas for activities are:
Yes I know I just said they could be costly, but maybe there are 1 or 2 classes that you really like the sound of and just want to set aside some money to do those each week. If you do classes some tips I can think of are:
- Ask for a trial first, or better still a free trial! Many classes and companies offer this, or a special deal whereby if you pay for the initial class you get the money back if you decide to book more classes. LL and I have done a few free trial classes. Some we did sign up for more lessons and some we didn’t because I didn’t feel they were for us or at least I didn’t want to commit to buying 10 classes.
- Look for drop ins where you can pay by the session rather than being forced to sign up for a whole “course” or “term” of classes. I initially signed up for things like 10 sessions of a sensory baby class, and a term of a baby music class. To be fair, I did do a trial of the sensory class first but the music class didn’t allow it and I had to sign up for 12 weeks. This is annoying because unavoidably, baby is probably going to be asleep, ill, tired, screamy, any other thing you can think of to do with baby. You might also be ill, on holiday, can’t be bothered to drag you and baby out in pouring rain, etc, at some point during the time of the class over the 12 weeks and you will miss some. If any of the above things occur, you then feel compelled to try to make it to the class anyway “because you’ve paid for it!” and want to get your moneys worth. And that is stressful and annoying, at least that’s what I found. I also found I didn’t like the music class any more after about 4 or 5 classes, and didn’t think it was worth the price, but then felt unable to get out of the situation.
- I’m going to contradict myself slightly here – but if you HAVE to, or think it suits you better to sign up for a whole load of classes in one go then maybe see if there are any discounts to be had for booking several classes in one go. For example, the sensory baby lady let me have 5 more classes for the price of 4. Nice. I also booked a course of baby massage because it was cheaper to book the whole lot than pay by the class plus I got an additional 10% off. I have to add though, I booked these things right at the beginning of my maternity leave before I had experience of these kinds of things.
- Cheap and Cheerful activities – such as a local play group that might ask for a token or small fee. For example, LL and I go to a playgroup in a local community centre where there are toys, soft play and then we all get in a circle and sing songs together and it only costs a couple of quid.
Free opportunities – using local free resources, from local services or other initiatives
Check your local library for what activities they have. The ones near me do weekly groups for babies under 18 months and another for toddlers where we sing songs (like row row row your boat), nursery rhymes and there are toys put out for the kids. You get to meet and chat with other mums local to that area, entertain and bond with your child.
- Local authorities and children’s centres also have free or heavily discounted play groups and activities such as “under 5’s soft play drop ins” and “under 1’s” sessions that usually just involve some toys, soft play, mats on the floor where baby can play safely and you can also meet other parents/carers.
- Local or national initiatives – e.g. Parenting courses – some councils run free or discounted courses
- I’m not sure what to name this point, but LL and I managed to do a free short course of baby massage because the teacher was in training and needed to run a real live group as part of her training requirements. I came across the opportunity when we were attending another activity and the trainee was there looking for parents she could sign up.
- What’s around in your local area? Go on a sensory walk with baby and see what you can see, smell, touch, (taste?!), hear. Make stories about what you experience, as you experience it and afterwards, e.g. “do you remember when we saw that cat – wasn’t he happy, didn’t he purr, did you smell him! Wasn’t he soft” – etc etc. Even talk about what you’re going to do before hand and get baby curious.
- Is there a sandpit – a zoo or animal centre – a park – or other free resources to visit?
Specific activities or groups
- Baby feeding drop ins – some areas will have breastfeeding support groups that meet weekly. I hear that these can fill up quickly though, so once the room has enough mothers in it then you might have to wait.
- There are also specific groups for certain members of a community such as deaf children and their parents/carers, special educational needs, dads/male carer groups, and so on
- Just arranging to meet for a coffee with a friend, another parent, family member, or make it lunch even!
- NCT groups, e.g. bumps and babies. Look up your local branch and find events here. Find out where your local group meets (mine meets in a pub!) – turn up and off you go – you can meet other local parents and there are usually some toys out to entertain the babies. Yes I know it can be daunting to go somewhere new and you might not know anyone there. I turned up at mine not knowing anyone at all but I had NOTHING in my schedule for Mondays and needed to get out of the house. I ended up having a really nice conversation with another mother about breastfeeding and the early months of LL’s life, and she had similar experiences to me. I have also since seen many of the mothers there at other local groups like the free library nursery rhyme singing group. So you get to see the same faces about and make contacts.
- Going to the park with another mum/parent/family, and having fun on the swings (if your baby is old enough for swings!)
NOT BABY RELATED (gasp)
- Plan in some “baby free time” to your schedule to ensure you are doing something different and even linked to your pre-baby life such as seeing old friends. Arrange to meet for a drink, dinner, chat with a friend or two, maybe old work colleagues or people you used to know before you were a parent who, gasp, don’t have children(!) and talk about non-child related issues.
- Or, just go out and sit in a coffee shop, read the paper, eat some cake and enjoy some alone time.
- Take a bath and read a book
- Go on a date with your significant other – if you can find a babysitter or helpful family member
What if I’m not sure I can do these things? What if I’m not sure about or have concerns about socializing with others – what if i’m worried it will all go terribly wrong?
- That can be normal
- Sometimes things don’t turn out as bad as we expect them to be
- Can you try something and see how it goes?
- If something seems too big or too much – can you break a goal down into smaller steps and try step one and see how that goes?
- Can you predict what obstacles will get in your way to trying something and make plans or have ideas of what to do to address these?
- Who can support you in trying one of your ideas/activities?
I’m sorry for not providing any links but any I provide would be specific to my local area so they won’t help much.
- I’d suggest contacting your local library, children’s centre or council to find out more, or look at their websites. Also, ask other parents what activities they have found as LL and I have found and been recommended several things just through word of mouth
Please do not use the information posted here as a substitute for personalized mental health advice and treatment. Please consult your GP or any other relevant health care professional if you or those who know you are concerned about your well-being and mental health.