Baby Steps in Sutton was established in 2021 to help mums who are struggling with their mental health and need some support with the transition from pregnancy to motherhood. The group, which is run as an informal drop-in session, meets every fortnight at the Riverside Centre in Carshalton between 12pm and 3pm.
Aimed at mums experiencing the first year of parenthood with mild mental health problems, although as Fiona Putnam, Peer Engagement Facilitator at South West London and St George’s NHS Mental Health Trust, who runs the group, said “We are not prescriptive and the group welcomes mums who are pregnant too.”
People are referred to the group by their clinicians, such as GPs, midwives and psychologists, but can also self-refer.
Fiona, who has personal experience of severe perinatal mental health illness, works hard to make the group sessions welcoming for everyone experiencing difficulties with the huge transition to motherhood:
She said: “New mums are under so much pressure to be perfect parents, and women often have very high expectations of motherhood which also increases the pressure on them. I was very unwell after my first child – I experienced post -partum psychosis and depression and I found it very difficult to bond with my baby – which made things even worse.
“I thought I was a failure and it was a very difficult time for me and something I wasn’t prepared for. Fortunately, I am fully recovered and I trained as a peer support worker to help other mums who are experiencing mild mental health problems during pregnancy and after childbirth.
“The group isn’t a forum for me to tell my story, and my experience was of severe mental illness which the mums attending Baby Steps won’t necessarily be experiencing. But I can give people real hope that you can recover from perinatal mental health problems. I have two lovely, healthy children and I didn’t experience mental health problems after the birth of my second child. Evidence shows, and I know from my personal experience, how much opening up and talking with like-minded people aids recovery.”
Mums are encouraged to come along and share their stories with other mums in the group, or simply sit and listen. There are also group activities led by Fiona, such as mindful drawing. People can get involved in as much or as little as they want to at the sessions.
A mum who attended the group wrote to Fiona and said: Thank you for offering us a place where we can be honest about how we are feeling. It’s the only mums’ group I go to where I feel I can open up and really talk about my true feelings about motherhood. Love the hot tea, biscuits and the little art activities that we do.” Fiona added: “Recently, two mums were the first to leave the group because they felt they were well enough not to need our support anymore. I was sad to say goodbye because we have become good friends. But I am so happy that we have been able to help them get through a difficult time in their lives and equip them with the skills to manage their mental wellbeing. They are now happy, confident mums – enjoying parenthood – which is wonderful to see.”
For more information about Baby Steps please email Tracey.firstname.lastname@example.org