Friday, 4 September 2015

SPHPM study on mental health problems in new parents

Unsettled infant behaviour, and parents’ lack of skills to care for a new baby, contribute to mental health problems in new parents, according to Victorian Maternal and Child Health nurses. However, new mothers are currently given diverse advice about how to manage unsettled infant behaviour.

SPHPM’s Dr Karen Wynter, Dr Heather Rowe, Ms Joanna Burns and Professor Jane Fisher from the Jean Hailes Research Unit, conducted a survey of Maternal and Child Health Nurses throughout Victoria. The study was recently published in the Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing.

A total of 343 nurses completed the online survey and shared their views on what contributes to mental health problems in new parents. Social risks were the most commonly mentioned factors. These included new parents’ lack of skills and experience in caring for a new baby, insufficient and interrupted mother’s sleep, unsettled infant behaviour and lack of support.

One in three families is negatively affected by unsettled infant behaviour, including prolonged and inconsolable infant crying, resistance to soothing, frequent overnight waking and waking after short sleeps. We asked nurses about the advice they would give to a mother of an unsettled six-month old infant who wakes frequently overnight and is difficult to settle.

All of the nurses showed great concern for the mother and her circumstances and prioritised giving her support. Reassurance and normalisation of a mother’s feelings are necessary but not sufficient; parents require evidence-based, sustainable caregiving skills. However, nurses cited at least 25 different “settling strategies” in their advice for parents about unsettled baby behaviour. These included wrapping the baby, not wrapping the baby, allowing the baby to cry, and not allowing the baby to cry. Such conflicting advice is confusing for parents. Some nurses even recommended co-sleeping (parent/s and infant in the same bed) despite the Australian recommendation to avoid co-sleeping because of the risk of sudden infant death.

“There is a need for evidence-based Clinical Practice Guidelines about care-giving strategies to reduce unsustainable sleep associations and assist the baby to learn to settle to sleep. This will ensure that consistent, evidence-based, safe advice is given to all families,” Professor Jane Fisher said.

You can read the paper here.

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