First time mom Jane Walker took proactive steps while pregnant to ensure she wouldn’t be isolated once her baby was born.
“When I started maternity leave, I knew that I needed to get myself out of the house and be social or I risked postpartum depression,” says Jane.
“I isolated myself when that happened, so I didn’t want to repeat that with a new baby,” says Jane. “I also believed that a social network of other moms would help me have some laughs and share stressors and that would help.”
Postpartum depression (PPD) is an umbrella term for the myriad of mental health issues that can affect a woman during the postpartum period. Though still not sure of the exact cause, experts agree that a combination of physiological, biochemical, psychological as well as social factors play a role.
“Postpartum women should be encouraged to resist the temptation to isolate themselves, push past their comfort zone and take the risk of making some connections with others who may be in a position to provide valuable support,” says Karen Kleiman, founder of The Postpartum Stress Centre and author of This Isn’t What I Expected; Overcoming Postpartum Depression.
Though connecting with other moms can initially be daunting says Karen, “most women soon discover that spending time with other moms who may be struggling with similar emotions is enormously validating and comforting.”
At six-months pregnant, Jane saw a notice about the Life With a Baby (LWAB) program in her local Richmond Hill, Ontario newspaper and signed up right away.
“I joined before I gave birth to be able to see the types of activities they offered,” says Jane. “I saw stroller walks, movies with mommies, and an online bulletin board where questions were answered about relevant baby topics.”
Unfortunately, an emergency c-section and breastfeeding issues kept Jane at home longer than she would have liked to.
“There were days spent crying at home in pain from feeding,” says Jane. “The loneliest parts of the day were in the afternoon when my husband wasn’t home and the baby was unsettled.”
Finally, at 12 weeks postpartum, Jane was able to join Stroller Fit, one of the programs offered by her local LWAB chapter.
“At the time I was still really struggling,” says Jane. “But our group leader was so enthusiastic, positive, and reassuring and I felt very comfortable.”
And she met many new moms whom she’s still friends with today.
“I did it for at least 4 months until my little one started getting more in a routine and needing naps at home,” says Jane. “Getting out and getting fresh air and having the company of new moms was awesome.”
Christine Silva of Keswick, Ontario agrees. She found LWAB through Facebook while on maternity leave with her third child.
“Having a baby after an 11 year gap made it difficult to meet other moms,” says Christine. “And being at home alone with a baby is not as easy as it sounds. It can seem like a lonely day.”
Christine decided to give LWAB a try and loved it. Similar to Jane, she joined Stroller Fit and attended special events such as Beach Day and The Halloween Pumpkin Patch organized by her local LWAB Georgina Chapter.
“I’m a strong advocate for this group,” says Christine. “New moms have struggles and by getting together with other new moms we are able to share our experiences and empower each other.”
Yasmine Steitieh, also from Keswick, is currently on maternity leave with her eight-month-old baby.
“I think LWAB is important for moms to be able to get out and create relationships with others who are in the same situation,” says Yasmine. “I recommend it to friends, telling them that there are always new programs available and that it is run really well. The fact that it is free or low cost is great because there are very little programs that offer the same quality for the same price.”
LWAB was started by Claire Kerr-Zlobin who believes social isolation was the major factor in her development of postpartum depression.
“I had moved from downtown Toronto to York Region and just found myself really isolated and not having the parental support that I used to have,” says Claire. “So I got together with a few other moms and began the program.”
The not-for-profit organization with chapters across Canada has grown from 200 to 20,000 members and shows no signs of slowing down. Programs are now offered in Russian, Chinese and Korean and new workshops and seminars focus on baby nutrition, life-saving techniques, financial literacy and time and stress management.
Jane loved her experience with LWAB and, like many moms who benefited from the program, wanted a way to give back. She did by taking over Stroller Fit and hosting workshops during her second maternity leave.
“I truly believe LWAB helped me from feeling isolated and risking depression,” says Jane. “I think LWAB is great for moms for companionship, learning, socializing and being real about motherhood.”