Charles Sturt University academics Associate Professor Maree Bernoth and Dr Jo Esler reflect on findings of research, conducted with new mothers about their experience accessing support in regional and rural NSW, during Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Awareness (PANDA) Week (Sunday 8 to Sunday 15 November).
By Associate Professor Maree Bernoth in the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Indigenous Health and Dr Jo Esler in the School of Management and Marketing.
Research outcomes support clinicians, new mothers and babies
Recommendations to NSW Health from research conducted by Charles Sturt University academics will better support clinicians in their work with mothers and their babies.
The research project is titled ‘Supporting isolated new mothers in NSW using an e-health program for postnatal depression: a translational research project’.
The findings have implications for NSW Health, developers of e-health strategies, managers, clinicians, and new mothers.
An important finding is that some mothers didn’t realise what they were experiencing was postnatal depression.
One new mother said, “I wasn’t practising self-care, I wasn’t taking time out for myself, I wasn’t stopping those negative thoughts before they spiralled and I ended up reaching out on a Facebook group called Misfit Mums in Wagga Wagga; they said Tresillian’s really good and you can go there, and so I did and that was probably the first step that I took in regards to postpartum depression and anxiety.”
Mothers felt they had to be all things to all people, maintaining previous roles as well as taking on new roles, and being seen to be managing.
Another mother in the study said, “When you’re busy you think ‘Oh I should do this’ and it just becomes another one of the should-haves that you’re beating yourself up for not being able to achieve when you have a baby”.
The significance of the role of the father was raised by the mothers, and by the child and family health nurses who were part of the study. The father was integral to the uptake of the e-health program for some of the participants as the women recognised that it was not just their own journey through new parenthood, the father was also coming to terms with their new role.
For example, one of the child and family health nurses observed, “There’s a bit of a lightbulb moment that mum has been so engaged in what’s happening with her feelings and her baby and the dad is over there with the tears coming down his eyes and nobody has addressed him.”
Mothers shared with us their sense of isolation, which certainly included geographical isolation, but also isolation in their feelings of despair which came when mothers felt they had to hide their feelings.
This was supposed to be a happy time with a beautiful baby, but some mothers felt anxious, tired and unworthy. This is where clinicians need to keep the conversations happening, keep checking on the mother, keep reminding parents about treatment options. It is where family and friends can stay in contact, offering practical support, especially in providing some babysitting so the mother can get very valued sleep.
The outcomes of the research have resulted in several resources for clinicians with suggestions related to effectively guiding a new mother through an e-health program.
A practical partnership between Charles Sturt University, MLHD Perinatal Infant Mental Health, industry and clinicians.
This research project was supported through the NSW Health Translational Research Grant Scheme. It was conducted across Murrumbidgee Local Health District and Western NSW Local Health District to investigate isolated women’s experiences of postnatal depression and anxiety.
The study was led by researchers from Charles Sturt University, the Murrumbidgee Local Health District, Western NSW Local Health District, Tresillian in the Murrumbidgee and the Parent Infant Research Institute.
It involved mothers who had experienced postnatal depression and who had a baby less than one year old.
The research team sought to be inclusive of managers and clinicians who participated in the Steering Committee, attended education sessions, recruited women, and participated in the data gathering phase. Through this process, the team noted a significant change in attitudes to research.
Engendering a research culture commenced with the education sessions for the clinicians where the project was outlined and the processes were explained. Clinicians had the opportunity to make suggestions about the proposed strategies and the usefulness of documents.
Managers played a vital role in information sharing, building excitement about the potential research outcomes, and the value of being a part of a research project for the clinician.
Being involved in the whole research process gave the members of the research team, the Steering Committee members, and the clinicians who agreed to participate, a real-world experience of the challenges involved in the processes of research.
A member of the Steering Committee said, “Research is not just about numbers; anything related to the project was seen as valuable information that would be recorded and needed to build the final report – this was a benefit of having university researchers on the team.”