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It takes a village: support network helps new mums

Mums4Mums, founded by CJ Dafoe (front, centre), provides practical, emotional and social support to new mums and bubs.

Mums4Mums, founded by CJ Dafoe (front, centre), provides practical, emotional and social support to new mums and bubs.

A blur of nappies, burping, feeding, and sleeping, motherhood can be an overwhelming journey to embark on. Looking after a new baby is a full-time job with no days off and no instruction manual.

Local charity Mums4Mums is working to ensure new mums don’t have to navigate these challenges alone.

A maternal mental health initiative, Mums4Mums provides practical, emotional, and social support for new mums in their homes through a network of volunteers across the Western Bay of Plenty – from Katikati to Pongakawa.

Support, while freely available to all, is prioritised for mums of multiples, babies living with disabilities or significant health challenges, and mums at risk of negative mental health outcomes due to exhaustion or social isolation.

Founder of Mums4Mums, CJ Dafoe, says maternal mental health is a huge issue in New Zealand.

“We are facing a maternal mental health crisis. New Zealand’s suicide rate for pregnant and post-birth mums is seven times higher than the UK – that’s a staggering statistic.

“Mums4Mums isn’t about a group of women deciding it would be nice to cuddle babies. This is women responding to a crisis.”

Every mum’s needs are unique and support is tailored to the individual. Volunteer activities can be as simple as having a chat over a cup of coffee or providing respite so mum can have a break.

“Many mums are overwhelmed, exhausted, and dealing with loneliness,” says CJ.

“When a volunteer goes in, they go in as a woman or a fellow mum, bringing friendship, conversation, and assurance they’re doing a good job. It’s important for new mums to be able to share and talk about their experiences; if they’re living in isolation, they don’t get that chance.”

The practical support is wide-ranging.

“We provide linguistic support to our migrant mums for attending social events or specialist appointments; support teen mums in developing their parenting confidence; and liaise with other community organisations to offer wrap-around support,” CJ explains.

Mums4Mums was inspired after a social worker approached CJ to support a migrant mum with premature twins. Rallying some friends, together they supported the family for five months, during which time more requests for help started rolling in. The need became clear.

Now, two and a half years later, Mums4Mums has supported nearly 200 families across the Western Bay of Plenty.

“It’s bittersweet because it’s awful to know mums are suffering,” CJ says. “But it’s beautiful to see how many women are willing to put their hand up to help. That shows the care in our community. That’s the passion that drives me.”

Mums4Mums relies on sponsorship and grants from funders to continue its work supporting mums and babies. The charitable trust recently received $10,000 in funding from TECT towards its operating costs.

TECT trustee Rachael Gemming says Mums4Mums is addressing a clear need in our region.

“Good support and extra helping hands are well documented as factors in positive maternal mental health and the service provided by Mums4Mums fits this niche space.

“We all know it takes a village to raise a child. We’re grateful that Mums4Mums is helping to build that village for mums in our community, particularly those that might not have support otherwise.”