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Is self-care really the answer? Reflecting on Postnatal Support and Community Care

Posted 11 Nov 2019

As someone with a job promoting wellbeing to parents with new babies, I have talked a lot about self-care.

At one time, our team even had a range of merchandise with the slogan: ‘Care for your baby by caring for yourself’. It was very popular with health professionals and consumers alike. However, a few recent online articles, along with my own experience as a mother, have made me question – is ‘self-care’ really the answer?

In March of this year, Nakita Valerio went viral on social media when she posted, ‘Shouting “self-care” at people who actually need “community care” is how we fail people.’ She made this post a few days after the Christchurch mosque shootings, a time when she was exhausted from life generally and grieving with her Muslim community. In an online article subsequently, she has expanded on this statement, saying, ‘What I needed wasn’t a bubble bath, but for someone to come over, help with the dishes, order some food while they watched my kids and to leave me alone to process and grieve.’

It was my postnatal doula who first drew my attention to these wise words. She shared Ms Valerio’s article on Facebook, clearly seeing its relevance to the mothers of all backgrounds who follow her page. It certainly resonated with me.

As another article notes, ‘At the heart of all this [self-care] advice is the same operational principle: If you want to feel better, you need to do the labour yourself, for yourself.’

And sometimes people simply aren’t in a position to add self-care to their extensive to do lists – mothers included.

So if we promoted ‘community care’ instead, what does it look like?

For me, in those early postpartum days, it was having a doula come to my house and look after me while I concentrated on feeding and loving my baby. When my baby was older, it was leaning on my mothers’ group friends and having them lean on me in return.

In a recent blog post for Mental Health Week, Playgroup WA CEO, David Zarb, highlighted that having a strong support network is key to managing if things get difficult, and attending playgroups is another way parents can make those social connections. ‘What you do with families and children and your local playgroup is at the frontline of positive mental health for you and your children…’ Zarb said. ‘[Playgroup] is helping keep people well and helping when they are not… it is the people around you that really make a difference.’

This is why Women and Newborn Health Service is an Act-Belong-Commit partner and why staff encourage new parents to be actively involved in and belong to community groups, like playgroups or the mothers’ groups offered by child health nurses. It is also why during Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Awareness (PANDA) Week, the State Perinatal and Infant Mental Health Program encourage service providers across the state to bring mothers together for activities like pram walks, which have the potential to forge ongoing friendships and foster community care.

About the Author:

Renae Hayward is the Senior Health Promotion Officer for the Statewide Perinatal and Infant Mental Health Program.