As we begin our reentry into society after countless weeks in lockdown, new mothers are navigating this time not only with a newborn in tow, but as completely new versions of themselves. They’ve been forced to eschew in-person antenatal classes (a first-time-parent right of passage) for sessions via Zoom, making it harder to form connections with other couples and create an all-important peer support network.
Many have had weeks or months without extended family support or easy access to postpartum services such as physios, chiropractic care and osteopathy, and it’s unsurprisingly impacting physical, mental and emotional recovery.
Nurse, midwife, lactation consultant and childbirth educator Libby Cain has seen the repercussions of this first hand. Navigating the unknown of giving birth in the context of a lockdown is causing undue stress for couples and their whānau, she says, and not being able to create connections with other new parents is extremely isolating.
“Zoom antenatal classes get the thumbs down from most couples, but this is all they’ve had during lockdown. It hasn’t encouraged those strong friendships with other couples that usually occur, adding to further isolation. Those friendships are often life-long, and these connections that are made during such an intense time are essential to navigate these times [with a new baby] together,” she says.
With 25 years of industry experience, 20 of those as a childbirth educator, Libby knows how vital support is for new mothers during the “fourth trimester” - the 12 weeks post-birth where a mother is not only healing physically and emotionally, but adjusting to her new role as a mother while her baby adjusts to life on the outside, too.
Information gathering, emotional support and the importance of community are integral during this time, and it’s with this in mind that Libby has teamed up with Nature Baby founders Georgia and Jacob Faull to create a space that offers just that, at the brand’s new flagship store on Melrose Street in Newmarket, Auckland. One third of the store’s 300 square metre footprint will be dedicated to Community by Nb, where parents will be able to enjoy complimentary tea and coffee, meet fellow mums and dads and receive advice from a roster of healthcare experts.
On top of the pre and postnatal support Libby already provides for Kiwi families (including prime minister Jacinda Ardern and Clarke Gayford when they had Neve) through her business Libby & Co, she will be offering one on one lactation support two days a week in Nature Baby’s practitioner space within the store, as well as running workshops for parents on preparing for birth and baby and the realities of taking baby home.
Sessions on sleep and settling, mum’s mental health, navigating the fourth trimester and establishing breastfeeding will also be available. Not only will these sessions provide credible learning opportunities, but they will also enable parents to establish relationships with other local mothers and fathers in the same boat.
“Because of lockdown and the isolation that some families have experienced we are keen to just be there as a support for those who have missed out on the human contact and the usual support groups and services they should normally have been provided,” explains Libby.
The practitioner room will also offer access to services including a physio, nutritionist, massage therapist and holistic sleep consultant, while the community space will host various wellbeing workshops. The aim is to provide a wraparound service that enhances the pre and postnatal care already being received, rather than replacing the role of the parents’ lead maternity carer, midwife or obstetrician.
Mothers and babies in New Zealand are fortunate enough to have the support of in-home visits from their midwife for up to six weeks postpartum, which Libby reports is not the norm in countries such as Australia and the UK where mothers receive little assistance after leaving hospital.
Regardless, Libby says mothers still need more support in those crucial first three months and insists that the Ministry of Health should extend the period that midwives get paid from six weeks to 12.
“I believe most women would benefit from much closer followup during the whole of the fourth trimester as they and their families negotiate the substantial physiological, social and emotional changes that they often experience,” she says.
With access to information and advice available via the internet and social media 24/7, and the social and economic pressures of returning to work, new mums are rightly suffering from increased anxiety too, which is a key shift that Libby in has seen throughout her two decades in the field.
“Pre and postnatal care has changed considerably in my career due to social media and the availability of information, which is often not research-driven and that in itself causes anxiety,” she says. “We need to be up to date not only with recent advances in our profession but also what information women are reading and who they are following.
“The other aspect that has changed are the expectations surrounding becoming a parent. I am not saying it’s a bad thing but 10 to 15 years ago, mums would be able to have a baby and enjoy this time for a while and maybe go back to work part time until it was time to have another baby.
“Nowadays these incredibly capable women don’t give themselves as much time for matrescence before starting up a business or consulting in their old industries. In the cities, this is often economy driven and unfortunately it can impact on the enjoyment of becoming a family for both partners.”
Whichever way you choose to parent and whatever your support network looks like, the events of the past two years have had a significant impact on mothers, fathers, children and extended whānau throughout Aotearoa. The internet has provided much-needed connection for all of us during this time of insolation, but now that we can get back to being social again Libby hopes that the community space will provide some nurturing respite and a much needed change of scene for new parents and their tamariki.
“I'm just really interested in sharing my knowledge to help make this journey a little easier if possible, so parents can enjoy their new roles and their baby."