“Parenthood is the only place you can experience heaven and hell at the same time.” – Anonymous
Are you nodding your head when you read this quote? Parenthood can be hard. If you are pregnant, you’re growing a whole other being, you’re tired, your feet hurt, your back’s sore, and you’re worried about all the small and big changes that are coming. If you’ve just had a baby, your body is recovering, you’re living in the feeding-changing-soothing cycle, and you’re fighting with the baby blues. For you, this past year has been a year like no other to become a parent: denial of partners in the appointments and birthing room and restrictions resulting in isolations from loved ones. There are small things you can do to make this journey easier for parents and their babies, especially when things are tough. With Limerick Mental Health Week coming up next week, we gathered some tips from the music and art therapists working in UL Maternity Hospital on how we can use arts to promote the wellbeing of ourselves and the little ones.
Art is everywhere! We are born creative. Long before we learn to speak, we communicate with our hands, eyes, feet and voice. Later this can be communicated into art making, singing, poetry and dance to name a few. Colour, shape and texture stimulate the senses and can offer moments of inspiration or calm. Nature, human faces, food; art can be seen all around us. It is in the noticing, taking time to embrace it, something as small as a falling helicopter from a sycamore tree. Pointing up in wonder, watching it swirl its way down to the ground with baby.
How about music? Music is our best companion in good times, bad times, and ugly times. Whether it is listening to soothing music trying to sleep, moving to the beat during daily chores, crying over a sad song, or breathing and screaming through a birthing playlist. Studies suggest that listening to the right tunes can relieve stress, anxiety, sadness, and physical discomfort. Do you know your baby loves your voice most? Research shows when the parent sings to their baby, the baby responds and there is positive effect on the parent-baby bonding and baby’s development. Singing to your baby in the womb can establish a strong connection between you and your baby and the baby remembers the tunes. Parents reported that the tunes they sang during pregnancy could quiet and soothe their babies after birth and continue to strengthen the bond. These loving first conversations and singing together can bring a unique, meaningful, and fun connection with your child and the whole family.
Using the arts in these everyday moments like nappy changing and meal time with your baby will help develop a strong bond, soothing your little one when they are crying with gentle touch , friendly faces , playful talking, laughing and chatting and taking a few minutes to watch your baby and see what they can do and like helps your Baby’s brain. They bank every smile and cuddle and this helps them feel safe and secure, now and into the future. Using the arts can be great for the stressful times, helping release feel good hormones and relieving stress. You don’t have to be Picasso or P!nk, find what you and your baby like to do, and enjoy the everyday moments of being creative together!
Just as physical health needs care, so does mental health. If you are feeling overwhelmed as a Mum, Dad, worried about a partner, family member or need further advice / support for you and /or your baby, talk to your Public Health Nurse, GP, or health care provider who will be able to help.
Some ways to incorporate art to promote wellbeing into your day might look like:
- Take some time outdoors; collect leaves, twigs, and petals and make a leaf mandala
- As baby grows, picture books and simple art-making such as handprints can provide gorgeous sensory experience stimulating babies’ imagination and giving you a chance to appreciate their creative development while being entertained!
- Sing to your baby! You can sing a lullaby, nursery rhyme, your favourite song, or even make up your own tunes. Don’t forget to pause to give baby a chance to babble and coo back.
- Listen to music that can relax and motivate you. Always have at least two playlists ready: 1) a relaxing playlist – instrumental music that is slow and gentle without noise and sudden change; 2) a “feel good” playlist – any tune that can make you feel positive and lighten up your mood.
This article was contributed by Pui Sze Cheung and Emilie Browne, music and art therapists with the Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Team in UL Maternity Hospital and Helen Ryan in ABC Start Right.