Pregnancy can be a bewildering time for women and their partners to go through. It’s an emotional rollercoaster: overwhelming and scary at times. From knowing how to navigate and array of services, to worrying about what to expect during labour and birth, and coming to terms with the life-changing event of becoming a parent. With that said, what can we do to support women in pregnancy?
Keeping stress at bay during pregnancy is important for the wellbeing of both mum-to-be and baby. People tend to focus on birth and the baby, once it arrives. But feeling supported during pregnancy is equally important – it is a time to prepare for changes ahead, so support is vital during this time.
The transition to parenthood is a time to reflect on emotional as well as physical wellbeing. Many parents experience anxiety, stress, low self-esteem and a loss of confidence. Access to someone informal who will listen and not judge can make all the difference.
It can also help to alleviate post-natal depression. Knowing what local services could help, and to have someone at hand to explain things can be invaluable. A reassuring, guiding hand to make that first step into asking for help can make the difference of a lifetime.
The right support is vital
Statutory maternity services are under immense pressure, with health visitors, early years’ workers and social workers unable to provide the individualised, personal support that many parents need.
Furthermore, marginalised parents are often wary of professionals so informal support from well-trained volunteers can help them to navigate and engage with services. Drawing on personal experience or shared characteristics, volunteers can provide knowledge, emotional support, practical help and social interaction. Mothers and fathers build their confidence, feel supported, prepare for changes ahead, and feel less stressed.
How peer support can help support women in pregnancy
Peer support, where mums and dads volunteer to help other new parents, offers a unique and invaluable contribution to healthier pregnancies, positive births and the best start for babies.
It offers something different to public services. Informal support and reassurance from another (carefully recruited, trained and supervised) parent who listens and builds trust, can make all the difference. It builds confidence, reduces social isolation, helps nip early difficulties in the bud and reduces pressure on maternity and early years services.
We know that when these initiatives are managed, resourced and delivered well, there are huge benefits not only to mothers, fathers, partners, and babies but also to professionals involved in their care.
Breaking down barriers
Peer support volunteers are recruited for their personal qualities and experience. They’re given expert training, supervision and personal development support. The training dovetails with their volunteering experience, putting learning into practice. They meet with women and their partners throughout pregnancy and beyond, helping to support them emotionally and practically, every step of the way. They can even be at their side during labour and birth.
Good quality peer support can reach also parents who might be wary of professionals and breaks down barriers helping parents access the services available to them. They can also help women experiencing anxiety and depression to gain more social support from others in their communities.
“Something to look forward to. I looked forward to her coming so I could offload. Talking helped me feel better and arrange my head”
“She is lovely. The whole experience has helped me through it all. Pregnancy & mentally”
Sharing 30 years of experience
Led by experienced practitioners, Parents 1st UK is a charity that helps effective perinatal volunteering and peer support flourish. Every mother deserves support. She wants her baby to have the best possible start in life.
With over 30 years of expertise, we have an excellent reputation for delivering high-quality volunteering and parent-to-parent support during pregnancy, birth and beyond.
Our mission is to make it as easy as possible for perinatal volunteering and peer support to grow.
This month we’ve launched an online community hub with knowledge, guidance and resources about perinatal volunteer support, led by experienced practitioners, for practitioners, volunteers and parents, and put it online for the perinatal community to use, free of charge.
This is just the start – we want others to join the network and share their expertise too. We believe that individuals interested in planning, setting up and delivering these valuable initiatives should collaborate, network and learn from each other. We also want to inspire funders and commissioners to invest in early prevention so that more parents and babies can benefit during this critical life transition.
The power of connecting people
Parents help other parents by building relationships of trust and equality and offering something different to public services. By providing a non-judgemental approach, offering reassurance and evidence-based information, women and their partners feel more informed and prepared.
No-one should face the journey of parenting alone and connecting people can make a huge difference, giving babies the best start in life.
Where to find out more
For more information on how to support women in pregnancy visit www.parents1st.org.uk to register free of charge and access the community hub, guidance and resources. Follow Parents1st and connect on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
About Celia Suppiah
Celia has a background in midwifery and has over 30 years’ experience as a public health nurse. She has a master’s degree in Public Health (Health Visiting) and is an Honorary Fellow of the Queen’s Nursing Institute.
Celia’s commitment to early prevention volunteering began in Essex in 1990 when, working as a health visitor, she recognised that many parents feel fearful or wary of professionals. Celia established a ‘Community Parent volunteer peer support programme. Drawing on the strengths of local mothers she found them uniquely placed to offer a different kind of support to parents on her caseload.