The rate of teenage pregnancies continues to be higher in the UK than in most other European countries, yet there is a wide gap in appropriate services for young mothers. Young mothers are at a higher risk of postpartum depression than average, which is associated with feelings of isolation and low self-esteem. Postpartum depression, if unchecked, can have long-term consequences for both the mother and her child. In addition, a lack of support with mental health difficulties can have negative effects on parenting practices and can affect the mother’s ability to bond with her child.
Young mothers are a unique group as they face several major adjustments to their identity and they can be particularly vulnerable to experiencing postpartum depression, stress and feelings of isolation. Comprehensive support services can prevent many of the difficulties commonly experienced by young mothers as they offer a variety of support, information, activities and opportunities. They can also offer a platform for young mothers to explore ideas, concerns and ambitions as they cope with the many adjustments in their lives. A comprehensive service for young mothers would provide support with employment, benefits, housing, mental health needs, parenting, social engagement, and relationship difficulties.
The aim of this project was to develop a group for young mothers that would facilitate their access to mental health services and practical support. The Young Mums’ group was developed in a Children’s Centre to meet a wide range of support needs; it provided access to a peer support network, weekly one-to-one support with the facilitators, and access to extended professional services.
The Young Mums’ group evolved over time, in response to the needs and suggestions of the mums. Weekly two-hour sessions included discussions, activities, outings or guest speakers. Facilitators placed a strong emphasis on sign-posting and encouraging self-referrals for further support. Session topics varied from parenting and mental health issues to routes to employment and education. These session topics were addressed through group discussions, debating media reports, discussions with guest speakers and providing leaflets for further information. Most sessions also included some time for feedback from the mums which formed a basis for planning future session.
This is the report from the initial pilot project, which later became the Young Mums Together programme.
Most young mums were referred to the groups through their health visitor or midwife; others were encouraged by their family support worker to attend the groups. Maintaining young mums’ engagement with the group was initially challenging; successful strategies were mostly of a practical nature such as changing background music, food and room layout, and using media reports to initiate discussions. Placing greater emphasis on discussions offered greater opportunities for peer support and addressing mental health needs in an informal atmosphere.
Several young mums self-referred for professional mental health support; some mothers accessed benefits, housing and career advisory services, others sought support with childcare issues and supported each other with parenting and relationship challenges. The Young Mums’ group offered a base from which young mothers could easily access further services and information. In this way, many of the difficulties young mothers and their children faced were mediated by providing a supportive service that was appropriately tailored to their needs.
Five young mothers participated in interviews which explored their experience of becoming a mother, their understanding of mental health difficulties and their preferred routes to seeking support. Several mums felt they needed professional mental health support. Young mums reported their reluctance to seek mental health support because of their fear that social services will take their child away if a mother is unable to cope with mental health difficulties. The interviews highlighted young mothers’ support needs which were categorised into five themes:
- peer support
- adjustment to motherhood
- accessing professional support networks
- mental health support
- confident parenting.
The young mothers indicated their support needs could be met within one local service, which could act as a base to access further support and information.
The design of the group has allowed further developments for young parents’ services in the local area. The group continues to be an on-going support service available at the Children’s Centre. New mums are continually recruited to maintain attendance numbers. Two dads have attended group discussions which indicated that dads may want to get involved with support services, given the appropriate promotion methods. As the group has been known in the area for some time, neighbouring Children’s Centres have visited the Young Mums’ group to gain information about how to run a successful group that will be popular with young mothers. In light of a need for tips and strategies to engage local young parents with services, a “How To” guide for running young parents’ groups was produced. The guide will be provided to existing young parents’ groups so that they can use simple but successful strategies to develop comprehensive support services for young parents.
Young Mums Together
Young Mums Together is a three-year programme funded by the Big Lottery to develop 15 sustainable hubs of peer and professional support for young mothers (under 25 years) in three London boroughs.
A-Z Topic: Postnatal depression
Postnatal depression is a type of depression many people experience after having a baby. It’s not the same as the ‘baby blues’: it needs treatment so you can recover.