New mums need more help to cope with stress, says coroner

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 yesterday.

Giving his findings into the deaths of a mother and her baby, who fell from their 12th-storey unit in Bukit Panjang on Nov 23 last year, he also suggested raising 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 worried about her company's performance.

Coroner Bay said it would 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 support and encourage her to seek medical help.

"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 ease the additional stress working mothers may face in their jobs - by providing better work-life balance, flexible working conditions and affordable, quality childcare.

  • HELPLINES

  • SAMARITANS OF SINGAPORE (24-HOUR HOTLINE): 1800-221-4444

    SINGAPORE ASSOCIATION FOR MENTAL HEALTH: 1800-283-7019

    CARE CORNER COUNSELLING CENTRE (IN MANDARIN): 1800-353-5800

    MENTAL HEALTH HELPLINE: 6389-2222

    AWARE HELPLINE: 1800-774-5935

  • Signs of postnatal depression

  • • Poor concentration, inability to make decisions.

    • Constantly feeling overwhelmed or hopeless.

    • Loss of interest or pleasure in doing things one normally enjoys doing.

    • Significant weight loss or gain.

    • Having trouble sleeping or oversleeping.

    • Restlessness (unable to stay still or slow down).

    • Feeling fatigued or lethargic all the time.

    • Feeling guilty that one is not handling parenthood well.

    • Constantly thinking about running away.

    • Constantly thinking of death or suicide.

    SOURCE: POSTPARTUM PROGRESS, ASIAONE

At last week's inquest into the deaths of Madam 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 raise them.

Her boss said she was also upset over a request by her mother-in-law's maid for a pay rise of $200 to $250 to look after the baby. Madam 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 Madam Koh was not her usual self and seemed quite emotional. Her husband also recalled that 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 onto her baby when she fell, she had also "tragically perpetrated the unlawful killing" of her only child, he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2017, with the headline 'New mums need more help to cope with stress, says coroner'. Print Edition | Subscribe