Providing support for the emotional challenges of becoming a mother

COPE has a new online resource dedicated to providing emotional and mental health for women. Here we look at why it’s such an important free tool for parents.

Finding information on every pregnancy symptom and test online, always misses one of the most important pieces of information you never know you need when you are thinking of becoming a parent! Dr Google may not help you to understand that it’s really emotional support that can be more important than the other physical changes that occur during pregnancy.

It is estimated that more than one fifth of women experience mental health issues in the perinatal period—the period that includes a women’s pregnancy and the 12 months after she has a baby.

Anxiety and depression in expectant and new mums is more common than you might think with 74 per cent of women not receiving help until they have reached a crisis point.

Dr Nicole Highet, a psychologist who has spent several decades working in perinatal mental health, is the executive director of the new Centre of Perinatal Excellence, (COPE). COPE is a not-for-profit organisation devoted to reducing the impacts of emotional and mental health problems in the pre and postnatal periods.

While each woman’s experience of this time is unique, it is a period when women (and their partners) have to make enormous changes to their lives. Not just to their bodies, but to their identity, priorities, relationships and routine. Added to that is the physical exhaustion and sleep deprivation that go with looking after a young child.

Dr Nicole Highet, said this is when women are “most likely to develop or experience a mental health problem”.

“Quite often the signs and symptoms are not recognised as anxiety,” Dr Highet said.

“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. If you have a history of anxiety, you are at greater risk. Also, if you’re a particular personality type, for example a Type A, you like to have order in your life or 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.”

Through Federal Government funding, the organisation has expanded its pilot online resource dedicated to providing emotional and mental health for these women.

COPE launched a fortnightly email service in 2018 to prepare, comfort and support women through the many emotional challenges they may experience during pregnancy with more than 4500 currently 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.

The COPE website has a wealth of information with features like:

  •      Preparing for pregnancy (physically, mentally, emotionally)
  •      Coping with pregnancy loss (each year in Australia, approximately 150,000 women experience the loss of a developing or new baby.)
  •      Pregnancy after infertility
  •      Emotional health in pregnancy
  •      New Parents – adjusting to the changes and challenges in the first year (breastfeeding, Lack of sleep, bonding, body image, managing priorities and relationships) and topics such as moving  through parental leave.

Sign up for their free fortnightly emails  during pregnancy and after the birth.

COPE For Health Professionals

See the trailer to the Mum Drum video magazine

Beyond Blue* Pregnancy and early Parenthood:

*Australia has become a world leader in perinatal mental health with significant advances made over the past decade. This is particularly with respect to the application of research into national mental health reform. Identification of the high prevalence of depression in the perinatal period1 was followed by the development of a National Action Plan2 and provided a blueprint for the translation of research into practice. This led to the development of the National Perinatal Depression Initiative (NPDI) in 2008. The five-year Initiative (2008±13) represents a national approach to promotion, prevention, early intervention and treatment through the implementation of routine screening and services for those women at risk of, or experiencing perinatal mental health disorders.

Some information for this article was sourced from