Take some time out, mums – it’s good for your mental health

New mums who have some ‘me-time’ without their babies have improved mental health, researchers say – but one in six admit to never having time for themselves after they become a mother.

The research suggests that women who have time for themselves once a week or more in the first six months after childbirth have improved mental health.  The findings, from a Murdoch Childrens Research Institute study of 1500 women, found that less than half of new mums have any time each week when someone else looks after their baby. One in six new mums report they never have time for themselves.

As part of the maternal health study, researchers analysed data from questionnaires completed by women at six months postpartum. The team evaluated the results using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale to identify new mums with depressive symptoms. At six months postpartum, almost one in 10 new mothers reported depressive symptoms and a clear relationship was observed between these symptoms and the amount of time spent for themselves.

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Women who took the time once a week or more were less likely to report depressive symptoms. Among the women who had me time, less than six per cent reported depressive symptoms.

“Ensuring women get regular respite from the challenges of caring for a young baby is a relatively simple and effective way of promoting maternal mental health in the year after childbirth,” says lead author Dr Hannah Woolhouse.

“While it makes sense that time for self would improve women’s mental health, what is surprising is the robustness of the relationship we have observed. Frequent time for self appears to protect the mental health of mothers regardless of the more general social support they are receiving.”

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The five most common things women did when they had time for themselves were: going shopping for the household (57 per cent); going out with partner (47 per cent); having a long bath or shower (42 per cent); going to the hairdresser or beautician (37 per cent); and relaxing, putting their feet up and watching television (36 per cent).

The study’s chief investigator, Associate Professor Stephanie Brown, said it was the first systematic exploration of the association between postnatal mental health and the frequency of time for self.

“Taking time-out is recommended by some Australian mental health organisations and it may also be recommended informally by primary care practitioners, such as the family GP or maternal child health nurse,” she says.

Associate Professor Brown says it’s important to acknowledge that getting time for self requires the ongoing and frequent support of partners, family, friends, neighbours or paid child carers.

“Current research indicates that the majority of childcare and housework responsibilities still fall to women. The more equitably partners can share the practical and emotional responsibilities of having a baby, the more likely we are to have healthy, well-functioning parents, and in turn healthier children.”

To get you inspired for your mummy alone time, have a look through our list of things mums can look forward to next time you have a moment off-duty.

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