My anxiety was palpable when I was admitted to the mother baby unit (MBU) with our daughter 6 years ago for anxiety and much needed help. In a nutshell, she wouldn’t sleep so neither did I and as the weeks and months went by my mental health declined in a serious way. I was anxious and depressed.
When I was admitted to the unit that took care of mums like me and their beautiful bubs we were both assessed. Me, to ensure all of my needs would be met during our stay and beyond, and her to make sure her mental health hadn’t been impacted by my lack thereof.
I was very distressed at the thought of having negatively impacted her wellbeing – the idea that at the tender age of only 3 months old she was being assessed for normal healthy development because of my mental health was mortifying.
When the doctor assured me she was a happy, healthy, smiling, thriving baby girl the relief had me in tears. He said “despite the fact that you’ve felt so miserable, you’ve obviously been engaging with her in a way that has her smiling, laughing and full of love, she can’t take her eyes off you.”
I can’t tell you how many times in those first few months I pretended to be happy when I was with her. I was diagnosed with post-natal depression during my stay at the MBU so no wonder I’d felt so miserable and unhappy. How ironic that now, when I’m speaking to groups of parents, I talk about authenticity and transparency when it comes to emotions so our kids learn that there are no wrong feelings.
Our baby girl and I were both saved by the advice that I had been given when our son was only a few weeks old some 2 years prior.
“No matter how you’re feeling, smile at your baby, play with him, laugh with her, tickle him, sing to her and play peek a boo! Make yourself do these things even when you don’t feel like it. Show your bub your smile even if you’re faking it. They need to see you smiling to know how to return the favour.”
To this day I can’t remember who said that to me. But I’m forever grateful.
When we smile at our babies our brains release hormones which help us bond with each other and help our babies feel safe and secure. It also impacts their brain development and helps lay the foundations of healthy relationships. You can learn more about it here.
I write this for all the mums out there who are going through what I went through. I know that like me, you’ll find it within yourself to smile at your bubba, even if behind the smile you’re suffering terribly. I also want to encourage you to reach out for help as I did. Great places to start are with beyondblue’s Mental Health Checklist for mums and PANDA.
Please don’t try to do it alone.
This amazing experiment called the ‘Still Face Experiment‘ shows what happens when a mum shows no expression to her baby for a short period of time. It’s a little distressing to watch how upset he gets but a brilliant example of why our expressions matter to our kids wellbeing. And don’t worry, there’s a smile and loads of love for this little fella after the demonstration is over.
Please share this if you know of any parents who might be feeling depressed or struggling to smile with their babies at the moment; it could be a really important difference in their life and that of their children.
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Jodi is on a mission to elevate mental health and wellbeing in families, classrooms and workplaces.
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