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Maternal Mental Health

Dr Hannah Woolhouse

Hannah Woolhouse remembers the turning point after the birth of her now six-year-old daughter, when she realised she was not coping.

“One day I went to put something in the kitchen bin and it was full, and I just wept,” she says.

“I just could not find the energy to take that rubbish bag to the outside bin. I was like, that’s not ok. It was a little thing that I couldn’t cope with, emptying the rubbish bin.”

Hannah is not accustomed to sharing her experience of depression. It’s not something she has talked publicly about before.  While having depression after the birth of her daughter was a very painful experience, Hannah admits it has been valuable to her work. She understands what other women with postnatal depression are going through.

“Having a baby myself made me realise what an upheaval it is,” she says.

Her experience as a first-time mum cemented her interest in a research career as she felt passionately about supporting other mothers through this challenging time.

Several papers she authored as part of a major study of first time mothers, led by Professor Stephanie Brown, have had a significant impact.

One key finding was that depression was more common in mothers in the second six months than during pregnancy or the first few months after the birth. Depression was also more common four years after the birth of a woman’s first child than at any stage in the first year after the birth.

An additional finding to garner national and international interest was about the importance of new mothers having time for themselves. Hannah found women with a six-month-old baby who had time for themselves once a week were less likely to experience depressive symptoms than those who had less time for themselves.

A greater cultural shift may need to take place to ensure the demands of raising children are shared more between new mothers, their partners and support networks, says Hannah. This is particularly relevant in Western society, where there are strong messages for women to immerse themselves completely in motherhood.

 “The more we can share the demands of looking after a new baby, the healthier new mums will be.”