The email support system helping mothers through troubling times

Stefani Cantelmi experienced perinatal anxiety.

Stefani Cantelmi experienced perinatal anxiety. Photo: Supplied

From the moment first-time mum Stefani Cantelmi learnt she was pregnant she developed an unattainable urge to be constantly in control.

The self-confessed ‘Type A’ personality would Google everything from food safety to routine scans, and “worried herself sick” about the pain of labour.

Though she was able to find information on every pregnancy symptom and test, either online or through her midwife, there was always one thing missing.

“There are so many apps focusing on your body and the baby, but information on your emotional state is hard to find,” the 26-year-old said.

“I had so much anxiety and fear of birth throughout my whole pregnancy. I couldn’t even think past to when the baby would arrive.

“I would Google something every week. At every trimester there was something new that would pop up, even though I did have a relatively easy pregnancy,” the Melbourne-based events and marketing professional told The New Daily. 

Stefani 34weeks pregnant

Like many expectant mothers, Stefani, pictured at 34 weeks pregnant, constantly sought reassurance from Dr Google. Photo: Tiffany’s Photography Melbourne

Mrs Cantelmi was one of the many women missing out on receiving adequate emotional support during pregnancy and in the first year following birth.

According to perinatal experts, anxiety and depression in expectant and new mums is more common than any other time in a woman’s life – yet 74 per cent of women don’t receive help until they have reached crisis point.

“Quite often the signs and symptoms are not recognised as anxiety,” Dr Nicole Highet, founder and executive director of the Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE), told The New Daily.

“It’s common to put it down to hormones, or lack of sleep, particularly later in pregnancy. In fact it’s an underlying anxiety problem that’s not identified in pregnancy.”

The feeling of being totally overwhelmed, having racing thoughts or catastrophising are common experiences among pregnant women and anxious new mums, Dr Highet said.

“If you have a history of anxiety, you are at greater risk.

“Also, if you’re a particular personality type, for example, people who like to have order in their life or people who like to have control.

“But as we know, when having a baby and during the early months of motherhood, there are many things you can’t control,” she told The New Daily.

Now, thanks to federal government funding, the organisation has expanded its pilot online resource dedicated to providing emotional and mental health for these women.

Ready to COPE is a fortnightly email series, which helps to prepare, comfort and support women through the many emotional challenges they may experience during pregnancy and the year following birth.

Since its launch in 2018, more than 4500 expectant and new mothers across Australia have signed up.

“People can get so overwhelmed with all the information at every appointment, so it’s about timely drip-feeding information to them,” Dr Highet said.

After registering online, women are sent information fortnightly, and weekly in the first six weeks after birth on a topic that specifically corresponds to their stage of pregnancy or parenthood.

Stefani Cantelmi and Luella newborn

“I re-live the birth quite a lot.” New mum Stefani Cantelmi experienced postnatal anxiety after her daughter Luella was born. Photo: Tiffany’s Photography Melbourne

For Mrs Cantelmi, who says her anxiety only worsened following the birth of her daughter, Luella, the resource has helped her work through her concerns.

“The birth didn’t meet my expectations. I did all the birthing classes and wanted this serene experience but it was manic. I re-live the birth quite a lot,” she said.

“When I talked about this, people would laugh it off. They would say that you can’t have post-traumatic stress disorder from birth, and that women have been giving birth for years. But unfortunately for me it was quite traumatic.

“When I went on to the website, I realised this is exactly what I’ve been looking for, something on the emotional side, everything that you’re feeling, as opposed to the physical side.”

“Luella is now seven months old and things are so much easier, whereas at the start I felt like I was stuck or trapped and I couldn’t see further. Now it’s just completely different.”

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