Why You Need a Break
What an understatement! The reason why Mothers Helpers provides mums suffering from postnatal depression (with no support system to help) with volunteers to help with childcare and housework is simply because we know how vital having a regular break is to recovery. Motherhood is relentless. It is a 24hr/day, 7 days/week job. For many of us with young babies or with babies that don’t sleep well, even night times are not our own to get sufficient rest. But too often, mothers have an expectation of themselves that a “good mother” is some kind of martyr/heroine/supermum that getting our own needs met is plain selfish. And here’s where we need to challenge that kind of thinking.
Challenging the Barriers
I’m not going to discuss where that thinking comes from or how we can challenge it. If you’d like to read more about Expectations, check out an earlier post I wrote titled “Expectations”. The first step to getting a break is to recognize that you need one, to accept that your needs are important too, and to give yourself permission to have a break. Many women with postnatal depression have anxiety about leaving their baby with someone else to care for them. This is normal. The best way to work through this is to start small with someone you know and trust and gradually build it up from there. The second step is to assess your current resources to see how it can be achieved.
Identify Your Resources
So many mothers truly believe they have no options. But you have more than you think. Let’s first of all take a look at your current resources:
- Make a list of all your family members that live in the same city and in particular, those that live close by to you. Consider their available time. Find out from those family members how often they’d be willing to take care of your little one.
- Have a discussion with your partner (or your child’s father or the father’s family) and find out how willing and available they are to take care of baby while you have a break.
- Consider your circle of friends and acquaintances. They might be other mothers from your coffee group. Perhaps they would be willing to do playdates or taking turns at taking the kids so that you can both get a break and mutually help one another?
- Consider your financial budget. Try to factor in some childcare costs whether that’s daytime or evening babysitting. Remember this is not a treat, this is a need.
Now that you’ve identified the current resources you have available to you, ask. It is the hardest part and so many mothers are so afraid to ask for help or for a break or for their own needs that they let things go on the way they are for month after month, year after year. But you cannot afford to do this. Your mental health is important. It affects you, it affects your family – your marriage/relationship and your child. You owe it to yourself, and to your family to take care of yourself and get better. So pluck up the courage and ask – and do it once. What I mean by that is, ask them for a regular day and a regular time and stick it in both your diaries or on both your calendars – so that you don’t have to pluck up the courage over and over again to ask for help. It will be too hard and you’ll stop doing it. Do it once and organize it so it’s a regular thing.
Now here’s some resources you probably didn’t know about or you’ve never considered before:
- Any family that receives any assistance from the Government (including Working for Families) is entitled to receive up to 9hrs subsidised childcare.
- If you have postnatal depression you are eligible to receive a Disability Allowance through WINZ – particularly if you are on a benefit. Part of that Allowance can include Childcare Costs. With a supporting letter from your GP you can receive up to 50hrs subsidised childcare per week.
- Consider having an Au Pair. An Au Pair lives in with you and provides you with childcare and housework assistance. Usually between 20 and 40hrs/week. Costs are usually around $180/wk. However, many young people with childcare experience on their O.E. to New Zealand are happy to provide some free childcare and housework hours in exchange for free board and accommodation. If you have the room in your house, I highly recommend this. Advertise for free on the Backpackers Noticeboard online!
- When your baby is heading towards toddlerhood you might feel comfortable hiring a student as a babysitter. Often students are happy to come and babysit a sleeping child while they do some study for a small amount of cash. Advertise on Gumtree for free!
- Consider attending groups that have a free or affordable creche (yes, they do exist!)
- Playgroups/coffee groups are better than nothing – so long as the mums really are socializing and talking amongst themselves!
What to Do With that Precious Time
Now that you’ve established a way to get a break, it’s really important that you use the time wisely. Don’t spend it running errands, paying bills, or getting the housework done. This time is for you, and it’s important. Here are some ideas:
- Attend counselling appointments
- Go for a walk
- Develop an interest/hobby: eg. scrapbooking, gym, swimming
- Meet a friend for coffee (no babies!)
- Go to a movie or out for a drink with a friend
- Go to a class of interest, eg. learn a language, cooking class, pottery class, art class, photography class, dance class
- Spoil yourself: a massage or a hair appointment or a manicure!
- Have a nap (particularly if you’re sleep-deprived – but don’t over-indulge in sleeping – often this can be a symptom of depression and if that’s your situation, it’s much better if you get outside for a walk than give in to the blankets!)
And yes, mum, your needs are just as important and you do deserve it! Talk to your partner and get his support. Help him to see that this will help your recovery from PND.
Risk Factors for Postnatal Depression
Those more at-risk of developing postnatal depression have one or more of the following:
- Previous Depressive episode
- Relationship/marriage difficulties
- Financial difficulties
- Poor family support
- Single mother
- Young mother (ie. under the age of 22yo)
- Having difficulty breastfeeding
- Baby with colic/reflux or illness
- Other significant stress, eg. death in the family
If you are currently pregnant, Mothers Helpers can provide you with a wide range of support to keep stress to a minimum with an aim to prevent postnatal depression. If you’ve already had your baby and you have any of the risk-factors above or any of the symptoms of PND (we can test your symptoms), Mothers Helpers can provide you with support so that you can recover more quickly and more fully.
By increasing support and directly addressing the specific stress you are dealing with, together we could prevent you from experiencing postnatal depression.
What Helps Recovery?
It helps to look at your health holistically. Many people try to treat mental illness including Postnatal Depression using one method of treatment. The reason this is not very effective is because human beings are made up of physical, mental, emotional/psychosocial, spiritual and cultural aspects of ourselves. These are all connected and impact on one another. The best way of healing and recovering from mental illness is working with each of these. Mothers Helpers does a holistic assessment and helps you to recognize where you are experiencing stress in each of these areas and gives you resources, help and support as well as goal-setting with these.
We talk about your specific situation and the specific issues you are facing. But there are common problems that mothers with postnatal depression experience, and so here are some ideas of what will help you to recover from PND:
- Regular exercise – preferably something you enjoy; even a leisurely walk will help
- Good diet
- Medication – not everyone needs medication, not everyone responds to medication, but most people diagnosed with postnatal depression will often find some form of medication helpful and with a combination of counselling, they’re likely to recover more quickly than those who do not take medication. We will write more on Medication in a future blog.
- Some people swear by natural remedies. This is a personal choice. If you are interested in finding out more, see your Naturopath
- Sunshine and nature – many people recovering from postnatal depression find they are especially sensitive to the sun and to nature and find it extremely beneficial. Aim to spend a good 15 minutes in the sun every day or more if you can. It releases good chemicals and hormones in your body (so does exercise).
- Many women find that adjusting to being at home with their baby day after day is very difficult and many women find that returning to work or studying or working on a project gives them the intellectual stimulation that helps lift their mood. It’s not necessarily where all women are at, but some women find that their mental health improves when they make these changes.
- Emotionally, there is so much to adjust to as a mother. Even if you are a mother for the 2nd or 3rd time, every situation is different. You might be adjusting to juggling a 2nd child with a demanding toddler in the mix; or there might be a wide age gap between your children and it’s almost like having a baby for the first time! Whatever your situation, emotionally it has an affect on us while we are coming to terms with the changes and adjusting.
- Inevitably if you have postnatal depression, you are likely suffering from significant stress in your life. Whether it’s stress in your relationship, difficulties with your baby sleeping or feeding, lack of support or something else.
- More than 50% of mothers feel isolated as the latest NZ survey that came out, told us. And it can be particularly isolating when your baby is very small.
- We recommend spending time talking with a counsellor on a regular basis to process all the adjustments that are going on, alleviate the stress that you are feeling and gain support. Research shows that mothers recover more quickly from PND when attending regular counselling and taking medication together.
- We also recommend finding out your local mother’s groups/coffee groups. Mothers Helpers can help you to tap into those resources. There are also support groups and social groups for young mums, single mums and mums with postnatal depression and a range of other supports online or otherwise for those with other difficulties eg. sick child, breastfeeding difficulties.
- Getting a break: Everyone needs a break from time to time, and that includes you. Time to rest, time to develop an interest/hobby, time for recreation. In our next blog post we will talk about ideas as to how you can get a break. It’s vital to recovery!
So often mothers diagnosed with postnatal depression end up on medication and that is the only change they make to their life and find that not only are they taking a long time to recover, they risk relapse. This is because if the stress that was there at the beginning is still there 6 months/12 months later, it continues to put them at risk of depression.
The reason why the combination of counselling and medication is recommended to be the quickest road to recovery is twofold: Medication will give you sufficient wellness to motivate you to see a counsellor, and to deal with some of the difficult topics you will need to discuss in order to get well. Counselling will discuss some of the stress you’re currently under and what has likely contributed to your depression, and ways you might find change – whether its internal or external changes that need to be made.