mother and child looking happy

Author: Dr. Melanie Badali 

MOTHERS, they are giants in our lives. We literally would not exist without them. Most moms pour their hearts and souls into caring for their children. My mom sure did. And I would do anything, and I mean pretty much anything, for the benefit of my kiddo. But with all the needs of children to consider, many moms have a hard time making room to take care of themselves, especially when it comes to mental health.

But it is not just moms who tend to push aside their own needs. We, as a society, fail to care for mothers in many ways. So this blog post won’t be your regular “take some me-time” article for moms. This will be a call to action – to moms and to the rest of us.

Moms – please make self-care a priority not a luxury.

Everyone else – please support maternal health, including mental health.

Making Room for Moms – What moms can do:

Let’s start with what mothers can do to take care of their own mental health.

Most people would agree that self-care is important. If you are on the fence, check out this article on the Anxiety Canada website.

If you are a mom, you might be thinking… “Yes, yes I know. I need to take care of myself – but who has the time? Get real.” 

The reality is – it IS tough to do. I am a mom. I have mom friends. I work with moms. And one thing that is difficult for many mothers to do is to put themselves first. If you were a fly on the wall in my therapy office, you might hear me say things like “You can’t pour from an empty cup”, “Put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others”, “You can’t run on fumes forever, you have to fill up your tank”.  Moms need care too.

What can moms do for themselves? My favourite definition of self-care is taking care of yourself like you would take care of a loved one. Take a minute to reflect on what your heart desires for your loved ones. Maybe, just maybe, these are important for moms too.

Most people would agree that taking care of health matters. Mental health matters too and many of the things that are good for types of health people tend to think of as “physical” such as cardiac health are good for mental health too. Information on Healthy Habits can be found in the “Taking Action” tool on Anxiety Canada’s free app, MindShift CBT. A low-tech way of remembering some important areas of health to take care of is the acronym NEST-S developed by psychologist Dr. Michelle Haring and colleagues for The BC Reproductive Mental Health Program. So what does NEST-S stand for?

N = Nutrition,

E = Exercise,

S = Sleep and Rest,

T = Time to Yourself, and 

S = Support.

I love the vision of a happy, healthy mom with her babies in a cozy nest.

In addition to the NEST-S self-care basics, developing more helpful ways of thinking, taking active steps to manage your mental health, and learning to relax can all be forms of mental health care. Check out Anxiety Canada’s MindShift CBT app or Website for more information and tools to help you.

Even when mothers do manage to prioritize self-care, sometimes what we can do on our own is not enough. Even the best mom out there can’t feed herself or her family if there is no food to be found near the nest. And moms need safe places to build their nests.

Making Room for Moms: The Bigger Picture

Like all living creatures and things in nature, mothers need conditions where they can thrive.

The responsibility for mental health care can’t all be on mothers. This is NOT just a self-care issue. A bubble bath and breakfast in bed on mother’s day is not going to move the maternal mental health dial, especially if mom is left to do the dishes and clean the bathtub later.

So, how can we support mother’s mental health?

Remember that last “S” from NESTS?

It stands for SUPPORT. We need to support moms.

There are lots of different ways you can support mothers. Providing emotional, practical, and informational support on an individual or family level are all useful. We also need changes on the societal level.  

Psychologist Dr. Nicole Racine and colleagues have outlined 4 ways to support mother’s mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic and common sense suggests these recommendations will be helpful beyond the pandemic as well (Racine et al, 2021).

In addition to increasing easily accessible effective mental health supports for mothers, we need to address social determinants of maternal mental health such as stable, safe, affordable child care and schooling for children, and ongoing support for family incomes. Mothers will also benefit from shared responsibilities for childcare and household tasks among partners as the rule rather than the exception.

In a nutshell, moms can’t do all of the things all of the time, especially if they do not have enough money to live on. Or they can – because we all know at least one mom who someone manages this – but their health will likely suffer.

My own mother was a very wise woman. She used to say, “Many hands make light work”. And I could not agree more. There is a lot of work to be done when it comes to making room for mom and supporting mothers’ mental health. This isn’t about moms making time to take care of themselves. We ALL need to pitch in and work toward better health for the mothers, the moms, the mamas, the mas, the _______________ (insert name you have for the maternal figure in your life), the mums, and mommies.  The moms deserve it. And we all stand to benefit. 

Make room for mom!

Resource Alert: If you are or know of a pregnant or new mom dealing with anxiety problems on top of all the other challenges that occur during this period, check out Anxiety Canada’s science-based resources for new moms. 

References and resources

Nicole Racine, R., Hetherington, E., Madigan, S., & Tough, S. (2021) COVID-19 stress toll is a family affair: 4 ways to support mothers’ mental health.

The BC Reproductive Mental Health Program, BC Mental Health & Addiction Services. Haring et al. Coping with anxiety during pregnancy and following the birth: A cognitive behaviour therapy-based resource and self management guide for women and health care providers.