As a new mum to a “bonny” 6-month-old boy (as several doctors have described him), being frazzled sometimes feels like just part of the job.
For the first three months of my baby’s life, my wife and I rarely got more than two or three hours of sleep at a time and felt like we were on a treadmill of feeding, changing, soothing and, let’s be honest, panicking.
Glow, a new online art project, invites mums like me and other carers of new babies to slow down, connect and breathe.
This project, created by a group of Australian artists, includes a series of audio and video “Moments”.
There are “We Moments” designed for carers to listen to with their baby, and “Me Moments” designed for solo listening or watching.
The Moments include a combination of soothing music, meditative poems or affirmations, or guidance on activities you can do with your baby to connect and relax together.
A deep lack of sleep
As a sleep researcher, I was all too aware of the potential effects of the broken and disturbed sleep I could expect after our son arrived.
I knew to expect things like fatigue, changes in mood, poor cognitive performance and maybe even times when I would be so tired I shouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car.
For many new parents, the effects of poor sleep are compounded by feelings akin to burnout, with many parents experiencing depression, anxiety or high levels of stress after having a baby.
Nearly 60% of new mums have poor sleep, with one in five mothers and one in ten fathers or partners reporting depression or anxiety during pregnancy or after the baby arrives.
Being woken up every few hours for months on end is something people are not expected to do even when employed under the most extreme work schedules.
For shift workers or on-call workers – whose sleep is often broken, shortened or poor quality – these negative effects are typically managed head-on, with regulated management strategies, employee assistance programs and calls for mental health support.
New parents, on the other hand, are generally limited to the (online and rare) support available from local family and health services and/or our local GP – in my case, at least.
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Glow’s online Moments present the idea that perhaps the best strategy for relieving these feelings of exhaustion and burnout is to give space for new parents to practice a little mindfulness as part of their day.
The term “mindfulness” generally refers to being present and aware of what is going on around us in the moment.
Practising mindfulness typically involves a meditative component, where you can focus on your breathing or the sensations and sounds you are experiencing – to avoid your mind wandering to whether you left the oven on, or if the washing is ready to be hung out.
In recent decades, mindfulness has taken on a life of its own, with mindfulness retreats, smartphone apps and clinicians all espousing the potential benefits.
For new parents, there is a wealth of evidence suggesting mindfulness can be effective in reducing depression, anxiety and stress.
Practising mindfulness can improve parent/infant bonding and increase feelings of self-efficacy (belief in your own abilities) and self-compassion (feelings of kindness towards yourself).
When I listened to the Moments presented on the Glow platform, I found myself breathing more slowly and deliberately.
These recordings and their lovely, calming artwork are soothing to an almost unexpected degree.
The first Me Moment I listened to – comfortingly titled “Put the Kettle On” – brought a sense of calm to an otherwise hurried task (“the kettle is taking too long! Why are we always out of pre-ground coffee?”).
As well as mindfulness for parents to do alone, Glow offers soothing background audio for shared activities with your baby, such as having a bath or playing with a fabric wrap. To me, this is the brilliance of the Glow platform.
Telling new parents to do mindfulness tasks with their five minutes of free time during the crazy first days of parenthood might not be realistic – but adding mindfulness to tasks you’re already doing? That’s just a good use of time.
Glow, by Threshold, is available online now.
How effective is mindfulness for treating mental ill-health? And what about the apps?