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Tackling avoidant behaviour can be challenging. This article discusses how we can help mothers to identify and positively challenge avoidance.
Woman and baby

Occasionally it can be difficult for mothers to become aware of and accept that they demonstrate avoidant behaviour. If this 
is the case, it can help to ask your client to describe what she does or does not do in these situations that are effecting her mood.

How does this compare with what she would like to be doing in her new role as a mother? What does she expect of herself? Furthermore, it can help to look at the barriers that stand between where she is currently and where she would like to be.

Tackling avoidant behaviour can be very challenging. Avoidant behaviour does not mean that we assume the mother is not busy, she may be very busy but maybe avoiding doing difficult or important tasks – and these may likely be associated with her low mood. Keep an eye out for mums who are avoiding doing self-care oriented activities. It is typical for mothers to take care of everyone and everything before themselves, and this can easily lead to or perpetuate low mood. Mothers with PND may see little opportunity to amend patterns of behaviour, believing that her situation or her baby is the barrier preventing her from practicing healthier or more functional behaviours.

When this challenge arises, using problem-solving to work through these barriers together can assist in recognising the causal factors; the TRAP acronym is a tool for functional analysis. It can help your client to understand how she got into this pattern and what she really needs now to get out of it.

  • Support your client to make positive changes by using goal setting.

Start by funnelling around where she currently is in terms of her goals for being a mother, where she wants to be, what are the obstacles and how can she get around these. Are these realistic expectations for a new mother? Encourage your client to be compassionate to herself and not set the bar too high for success. It may also be helpful to provide your client with the goal setting booklet if this a particular area she would like to work on.

  • Asking for advice; many other mums have been in similar situations and most will offer support and guidance.

Encourage your client to access sources of information such as websites, chatrooms, local mum and baby
groups or even friends and family members who are also mothers. For mothers who are anxious about joining these groups, it may be useful for them to use Netmums local “meet a mum” feature, or to post in local Facebook mum groups for other mothers who are happy to meet up one-on-one with the client.

  • Being a new mother means learning how to integrate this new role with her old role/s, whether that be as a wife, friend, sister or work colleague.

Having a baby is a fundamental and lasting change and sometimes mothers can find it difficult to let go of her old role. Setting new boundaries, new expectations of herself can help with easing this pressure. Encouraging and building assertiveness will help to communicate these boundaries to others.

© University of Exeter
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Addressing Postnatal Depression as a Healthcare Professional

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