Supporting new mums through the early days
Learning to look after a new baby can be tough, but good support can make a huge difference, reports Lisa Salmon
Giving birth can be a harrowing experience, but for many new mums, looking after a tiny baby in the early months can be almost as hard.
Being responsible for a new life for the first time can be overwhelming, with many first-time mums unsure if they are doing the right thing, and sometimes feeling isolated, depressed or anxious, with concerns about their baby's health and development.
But postnatal experts are keen to stress that there is plenty of help available for new mums, both through NHS postnatal services, and organisations such as the NCT, which points out that increasing amounts of research links maternal wellbeing with both short-term and long-term benefits for babies.
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Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, stresses that good postnatal care is vital, for example to help and support women to establish breastfeeding, learn to care for their baby, and ensure women are in good health after their pregnancy.
"Women should rightly be expecting the NHS to provide this," she says. "However, we know anecdotally that the number of postnatal visits are being cut across the country, and I have real concerns about the impact of this."
She says the Government's Healthy Child Programme highlights the importance of good care throughout and after pregnancy for the health and wellbeing of mother and baby, but stresses that officials need to ensure there are enough NHS midwives so postnatal care does not suffer.
As well as NHS services, postnatal support is available through the NCT, which runs Early Days courses where parents can discuss topics ranging from baby's feeding and sleeping, to relationships, returning to work, and different styles of parenting.
NCT postnatal leader Alex Bollen says sleep and tiredness tend to be the most talked-about issues on the courses, but says: "It's not just lack of sleep that causes parents' exhaustion, it's the very steep learning curve they are on.
"It's 24/7 and mums are exhausted – it's a big shock."
She says mums are scared of doing anything that might harm their child, and simply want to be the best mum they can, which makes baby's crying and unpredictability in the first six to eight weeks extra tough.
"There are different philosophies on parenting and that can be very confusing for new mums," she said.
"But it's trial and error, getting to know your baby, and understanding what makes your baby tick, and that often doesn't fit in with books that say 'you must do it this way'."
She says support is vital in the early months, as is putting parents in touch with others who are going through the same thing.
"Early Days courses provide a safe environment where parents can talk about the challenges and what they're finding tough. They can share their experiences and emotions, which is valuable," she says.
To find a local Early Days postnatal course, visit www.nct.org.uk/courses/postnatal The NCT helpline can be called on 0300 330 0700.