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'I felt lonely and stupid': New mothers' health problems often 'ignored or dismissed'

Many women put their health in second place after giving birth, an expert has said.

shutterstock_1050001412 File photo Source: Shutterstock/Alena Ozerova

NEW MOTHERS IN Ireland are “suffering in silence” over hidden health problems, and are reluctant to ask for help, a professor in midwifery has said.

Dr Deirdre Daly warned that a lot of care for mothers stops after they leave the maternity hospital, putting their health in “second place”.

The issues experienced by women include anxiety, depression, pain and domestic violence.

In a bid to address knowledge gaps, the School of Nursing and Midwifery has launched an online resource centre. It will provide evidence-based information and help women to self-assess.

The resource was developed after the Maternal Health and Maternal Morbidity in Ireland (MAMMI) study found that women struggle to find trustworthy information.

Dr Daly, an assistant professor in midwifery at Trinity College Dublin, who was the principal investigator in the study, said: “The resources cover a lot of things including women’s physical health, mental health, anxiety and depression.

“We also cover other issues like domestic violence, something that happens in about one to two in every five women who have given birth.

We learned there was a considerable number of new mothers suffering in silence. This is the first step to try and co-design and deliver reliable and trustworthy educational resources for women.

Daly said there is “fantastic care during pregnancy and birth but once a woman leaves maternity hospital, a lot of that care stops”, adding: “It’s intermittent and the focus becomes the baby.”

“It means that the women’s health takes second place to a lot of other issues and it can be months before the woman realises she has a health problem.”

‘Lonely and stupid’ 

Naomi Donaldson said she felt “lonely and stupid” after the birth of her son Evan in March 2017.

When her son was six months old the Dublin mother, who suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS), told the nurse she was exhausted and could not function well.

bdd86a6d-0610-42b1-a55c-44a277839286-e1571145427344-640x853 Naomi Donaldson attended the launch at the School of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity College Dublin. Source: Cate McCurry/PA

“She brushed it off saying ‘well all new mothers are tired’. Six weeks later I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue,” she said.

“Every question I asked felt like a stupid one. I felt guilty that I didn’t know the answers and that I should be a better mother.

“New mothers won’t have to go through what we went through because there is a place to go to.

“I think some health workers can be dismissive of complaints of new mothers. I felt like I was being dramatic and I started questioning myself and it wasn’t until I was diagnosed that I realised I wasn’t. It dented my confidence as a mother.”

Ellen McEvoy, another mother at the event, said she went into “complete shock” after her son Eric was born.

She admits it took her some 15 months before she sought help for what was later diagnosed as postnatal anxiety.

“I did not enjoy the first couple of weeks and months of having a newborn.

“I didn’t even have a traumatic pregnancy, I have loads of people around me for support, I am not untypical of other mothers, but I never felt so lonely in my entire life.

I was surrounded by people but I didn’t feel like I knew what I was going to do. I felt totally out of control.

“We shouldn’t have to go through as much trauma in this transition as we are going through as new mothers. For mothers there’s a real expectation that this is natural and you should just get on with it and that has to change.

“I missed a lot in the first year of my son’s life because I was so busy worrying about stupid stuff,” McEvoy said. 

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