Recognise the varied needs of new mothers

The mental health of mothers must and should be a priority.
The mental health of mothers must and should be a priority.PHOTO: ST FILE

Breastfeeding, including the expressing of breast milk, is often portrayed as a natural, critical aspect of motherhood.

Yet, such a belief renders invisible mothers who are unable to do so.

I, for one, struggled when nursing my firstborn child and it affected me greatly.

It is the guilt of not being able to provide what society deems "the best" for your child. It is a sense of having failed as a mother.

If we truly want to care for the mental health of mothers, we need to rethink our public messaging.

Posters in paediatric departments often convey a singular message - if you want to give your child the best, then breastfeed.

This can be interpreted in reverse - that is, if you are not breastfeeding, you are not doing enough as a mother.

KK Women's and Children's Hospital holds an annual healthy baby contest, but for only breastfed babies.

I can understand the good intentions in encouraging women to breastfeed. Yet, this narrowly assumes women choose not to do so and hence need to be convinced of its merit.

What about those who want to but are simply unable to? How do we assure them that they, too, are doing a good job as mothers? Beyond messaging, what can we do to support them emotionally?

With my second child, it was a completely different experience. I was able to breastfeed him exclusively, with the guidance of a doula.

Yet, it was an equally stressful time, having to nurse my son every hour with little sleep. I was blessed with a strong support network to pull me through.

It made me wonder how women without much home support cope.

More importantly, are we open to advising mothers who feel completely overwhelmed that it is perfectly fine to stop breastfeeding at any point in time, if this is what is best for their well-being?

I hope we are.

The mental health of mothers must and should be a priority.

We also need to recognise that new mothers have varied needs.

Only then can we customise both our public messaging and the support we offer these differing groups of women.

Carol Ann Martin (Madam)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2019, with the headline 'Recognise the varied needs of new mothers'. Print Edition | Subscribe