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In The News

Care link for baby's mother
28th September 2005
By Hanna Mills
Publication: The Warrnambool Standard
© The Warrnambool Standard. Reproduced by Permission

A BOX of tissues sits on Kerin Wheeler's desk.

It does not take pride of place, nor it is particularly prominent. But it is a steadfast presence.

Ms Wheeler, a Warrnambool City Council maternal child health care nurse, deals with new parents and young babies every day.

And the tissues are needed for both babies with runny noses and their anxious mothers.

"There are mothers who will sit here ... long after we've finished talking about the baby and suddenly, for no obvious reason, will burst into uncontrollable crying," Ms Wheeler said.

It certainly doesn't happen to every new mother but instances of postnatal depression have increased to one in seven women since Ms Wheeler started in Warrnambool more than 20 years ago.

And she and her colleagues are often the first to diagnose it.

"If you say to a parent: `How are you?' Most will say `I'm fine' when in actual fact they may not be," she said.

Anxiety, poor appetite, lack of sleep, a desire to avoid others and feeling useless as a parent are classic symptoms, according to Ms Wheeler.

A lack of support from families or friends and family history can also contribute to depression, she said.

"It can happen in any family. It's hormonal and it's no respecter of persons at all," Ms Wheeler said.

"I think that it unfortunately still has that stigma that it's an illness. People are often frightened to admit they have these feelings."

But Ms Wheeler and her colleagues at her family-centred practice are helping to change that impression.

"We don't just concentrate on mothers or babies. We look at the family as a whole."

They offer the support and guidance of psychologists, family counsellors, physiotherapists, naturopaths and first mums' groups.

"I've never forgotten when I first came out to maternal and child health and I had a mother who had severe postnatal depression," Ms Wheeler said.

"I referred her to another professional person and she was told: `You've got a healthy baby. Go home and get over it.' I've never forgotten that.

"All professionals are much better trained now and learn to recognise it much more easily."

Ms Wheeler said parents could also help themselves by attending classes, seeking help and trusting themselves with their new babies.

"There are all different sorts of ways of parenting. There's no right way, there's no wrong way. It's what you feel comfortable with and what works best for you. And enjoy your baby."

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