We should be more like Germany when it comes to caring for new parents

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Becoming a parent for the first time is daunting, and there's nothing like the unknown to throw most of us into panic.  

But thanks to a heightened awareness of parenting challenges (in part due to the growth of social media), many expectant parents are now trying to get one step ahead of the game. How? By booking into sleep schools before their babies are even born.

In a recent interview with the Herald Sun, former midwife Leanne Clothier reported that waitlists for some Victorian sleep schools were now ranging between three to four months. 

Similarly, the manager of Masada Private Hospital's mother and baby unit, Patsy Thean, said her current waiting list was eight weeks.

While it's understandable that expectant parents want to be prepared for the worst, is booking in for sleep school early really the answer?

Baby sleep expert Jo Ryan says that it's not necessarily a bad idea, but thinks that sometimes too much information prior to baby's arrival can be confusing.  She also thinks this takes away from mothers trusting their own instincts.

"I would say to expectant mothers to relax and wait and see how you go first," she says "Have one or two people whose parenting style you like, and talk to them about what to expect from your baby."

Family psychotherapist Dr Karen Phillip, however, believes that there's no harm in expectant mothers taking this step before a problem even arises.

"Women are becoming more aware of the issues relating to motherhood and sleep deprivation. They see the problems it creates, and they're proactively trying to avoid this same result for themselves," she says. 

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"Preparation is far better than reaction once it occurs."

Both agree that new mothers need better all round support and care after their baby is born.

While women in Australia are entitled to one home visit from a child health nurse or midwife, the care doesn't extend much more than that unless a significant issue is noted. 

Most women also leave hospital soon after having their baby, assuming there are no complications.

This is in stark comparison to other countries. In Germany, for example, new mums can remain in hospital for up to five days with hands-on help with their newborn. They then receive daily visits by a midwife ('hebamme') for the first two weeks post-baby.  

"Motherhood is a complete change of life. It's an enormous event, and we don't support our new mothers appropriately or enough," says Phillip.

"There are so many variables for any new mother, so classes for motherhood coping skills would be highly beneficial and prevent the number of issues we see escalating."

Phillip says that prenatal sessions could be extended to include parenting classes to educate parents about common issues and milestones.

"Mothers aren't sure how to manage many of these issues without parenting education, and this isn't provided – unless you include social media information, much of which is questionable and confusing."

Ryan says that while midwives do their best, a lot of women leave hospital without much of an idea of how to care for a newborn.

"There's so much emphasis on the pregnancy and delivery, but then parents are sent home and left to their own devices," she says.

"By not having enough education on caring for newborns, mothers can feel isolated and unsure and this can lead to stress and anxiety – particularly for those who've had a difficult or traumatic birth."

Ryan believes it would be very beneficial if there were classes about caring for your newborn, both before and after the baby's arrival. She says that topics of particular interest could include sleep and settling, how babies behave, and what to expect.

She also thinks a series of home visits would be helpful.

"Mothers can't often get out of the house so having someone come to them weekly for the first few months would be an enormous help."

Ryan points out that apart from sleep schools there are also a lot of private consultancies that do home visits.

"It's a good idea to reach out and ask for help," she says. "Sometimes it only takes a few little tweaks to get things back on track."