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Parent shaming could degrade mothers’ health

Cultural shame and self-criticism could be affecting the mental health of new mothers, with a study from the University of Queensland (UQ) looking into how “mum-shaming” could potentially shape the mother-infant bond.

The study is looking to recruit women in their third trimester of pregnancy, surveying participants during their pregnancy, then three and six months following giving birth.

The research will also include observation of the interaction of mothers with their children.

UQ is aiming to use the data in the development of treatment methods such as compassion-focused therapy for mums.

UQ School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences PhD candidate Julia Caldwell said shame and self-criticism were linked to mothers not seeking help when they needed it for issues such as anxiety or depression.

“Becoming pregnant and having a baby should be a happy time, but mums can be enormously self-critical, making the transition to parenthood difficult,” Ms Caldwell said.

“There is also a lot of mum-shaming in our culture where mums can be criticised for their parenting choices or their baby's behaviour.

“This shame can worsen existing distress, such as stress, anxiety or depression, and reduce mothers’ tendency to seek help in the early postnatal period.”

Ms Caldwell said she wanted to undertake the research after experiencing judgement for her parenting, as her daughter had difficulties breastfeeding and sleeping through the night.

“I was given a lot of well-intentioned advice that didn’t feel right, but I felt obligated to follow it,” Ms Caldwell said.

“When the advice didn’t work for us, I felt responsible, and it really took the wind out of my sails as a new mum.”

Ms Caldwell is collaborating with Professor Pamela Meredith and Professor Jenny Ziviani from UQ’s School of Health and Rehabilitation along with Dr Koa Whittingham from the university’s Child Health Research Centre.

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