Do more to help new mothers handle stress from work and baby: Coroner

Sales manager Koh Suan Ping and her baby fell from their 12th-storey unit in Bukit Panjang on Nov 23 last year.
Sales manager Koh Suan Ping and her baby fell from their 12th-storey unit in Bukit Panjang on Nov 23 last year.PHOTO: MDM SITI

SINGAPORE -Do more to help new mothers deal with the worries of work and the possible stress of coping with a baby, State Coroner Marvin Bay urged on Tuesday (May 9).

Giving his findings into the deaths of a mother and baby, who fell from their 12th-storey unit in Bukit Panjang on Nov 23 last year, he also suggested more awareness of postpartum depression.

Sales manager Koh Suan Ping, 29, was not just concerned about not being able to produce enough milk for her new daughter, but was also stressed about looking for a replacement maid and was worried about her company's performance.

Coroner Bay said it will be useful for family members and other people who are around mothers to recognise warning signs of depression and anxiety. The birth of a baby, he said, can trigger powerful emotions in a mother. Family members, who are often the first line of defence, can provide her with support and encourage her to seek medical help.

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"The earlier a new mother gets help, the sooner she will be fully equipped to cope with depression or anxiety, and enjoy her new baby," he said.

He also suggested steps to ameliorate additional stress working mothers may face in their jobs - by providing better work-life balance, flexible working conditions and affordable, quality childcare.

At last week's inquest into the deaths of Koh and her two-month-old baby, the court heard that she had voiced concern that sales in her company were slow and wanted to help increase it.

Her boss said she was also upset over her mother-in-law's maid who requested for a pay raise of $200 to $250 to look after the baby. Koh refused and had to find a new maid.

"She found this to be an impediment, which adversely affected her work plans which, in turn, affected her work progress," said Coroner Bay in his findings.

Even though she was allowed to work from home, she told her boss she had to return to the office once a week to monitor stocks.

A week before her death, her colleague saw that Koh was not her usual self and seemed quite emotional. Her husband also recalled she was upset over not being able to produce enough breast milk.

On Nov 19, she typed "What to do when there is no way out" in Chinese in a Google search.

Coroner Bay said she was "beset by mounting anxiety about her return to work" while care arrangements for her baby were not settled.

"Madam Koh had avoided projecting her true emotional state, but her escalating stresses were evident in the messages that she sent to colleagues and confidants," he said.

He found that her fall from height was a "deliberate act of suicide".

By holding on to her baby when she fell, she had also "tragically perpetrated the unlawful killing" of her only child, he said.