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Post Natal Distress, Westpac scholar explores new themes

14 August 2018

“My research in Sweden for my Doctoral thesis has provided me with ‘themes’ of information. It wasn’t about ‘proving’ things,” says Westpac Future Leader Scholar Tiffany De Sousa Machado (below), whose PhD studies focus on Post Natal Distress and its alleviation.

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Tiffany has recently returned from a prolonged period of study in Sweden and is working on those new themes now.

Sweden’s parental support structures and its policy in regard to employment equality and shared parenting are seen as ‘best practice’. However, Tiffany’s research reveals that ‘best practice’ does not appear to address all the support needs of new mothers and that is a theme she is keen to explore.

“The rates of post-natal distress (PND) when we look at Sweden and Australia are similar,” she says.

“The PND rate in 2010 in Sweden was approximately 12.5 percent at eight weeks postpartum and 8.3 percent at 12 weeks postpartum, while the rate in Australia is between 13 and 19 percent. In other words, the Swedish rates are on par with those in Australia,” she explains.

With high rates of equality, extensive parental leave and financial remuneration, free child care and accessible social supports such as free community play centres, Sweden offers the ideal backdrop against which to ask, what is it that mothers’ need, which might not be being addressed?

The answer, Tiffany believes, is emotional and appraisal support: “The data supports existing research which suggests there’s a certain amount of postpartum distress which is ‘inevitable’ with such a change of life, and that the missing emotional and appraisal supports would buffer the ‘inevitable’.”

Basically, if women, when they feel low or distressed, could share and be validated that may prevent a cumulative effect leading to more serious depression.

At the time of her three-month research stint, living in Sweden with her six-year-old daughter, Tiffany was pregnant. She says her situation provided her with a personal experience of Sweden’s structural and informational supports: “I spent time in schooling environments, at people’s homes, in public spaces and in the hospital setting engaged in qualitative and ethnographic research. I conducted semi-structured interviews with maternal and child health care professionals, some of whom were also parents, and worked with parents, both male and female, to understand, in more depth, their experiences after the birth of a child of the existing support systems.”

Tiffany’s findings are preliminary and, she explains, her study is not intended to be generalised to the population: “It gathers in-depth, rich data from those with which I spoke, and that qualitative data indicated they needed more emotional and appraisal support (validation) and they had few channels from which to receive it.”

Australia has a number of invaluable organisations (which are missing in Sweden), like Beyond Blue and Panda, which aim to support women through depression and postpartum stresses, but Tiffany believes more women centred care is needed to complement existing structural and informational support. 

“I think mentorship is important,” says Tiffany.

“The element of competition is missing in mentorship where it may be present in some peer to peer groups. Mentorship has a ‘been-there, done-that’ attitude which can lighten a situation and give women a sense of ‘normal’, and that is important,” she finishes.

Tiffany has, since returning, written about her work and experiences for Mamamia and her blog.

Tiffany is a 2017 Westpac Future Leaders Scholar. Applications are now open for 2019 Scholarships. For more information, see here

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