Sophie Baron, Mamamade, talks pre & post-natal depression

Sophie Baron, Mamamade, talks pre & post-natal depressionSophie Baron is the Founder of AI-led, plant-based baby food subscription service, Mamamade.

Having set up a fast-growing, direct-to-consumer business which uses AI to create bespoke nutrient-dense meals for children aged 6-36 months, Sophie is an inspirational businesswoman.

She set-up the business after returning to work as Head of Ops in a tech company earlier than she wanted to after mat leave. Her experience weaning her daughter whilst juggling her demanding job was the inspiration for a time-saving, highly nutritious option for parents.

Here she talks to us about pre and post-natal depression, mental health in the workplace, and normalising taboos.

Could you explain what exactly pre/post-natal depression is?

Pre and post-natal depression is when a woman experiences regular shifts in mood and feelings of anxiety, sadness and negative emotions that overwhelm everyday life.

Being pregnant is an emotional time.  For some women, these ‘normal symptoms’ of heightened emotion can spiral – and this can happen at any point during pregnancy.

Watching the body change is a beautiful experience for many, but I found that I ended up feeling uncertain and insecure. So much of our life is dedicated to mastering our bodies and our emotions, that for me, pregnancy felt as though this control was being taken away. It can make the body and our ‘new selves’ almost unrecognisable, which I found challenging.

Meanwhile, postnatal depression affects more than 1 in every 10 women within a year of giving birth. Women feel anxious, tearful and worried post birth, often called ‘the baby blues’, but if these symptoms persist, it can lead to postnatal depression. Many women choose not to be open about it because they are worried about what others will think.

A big part of our identity is tied to work, whether that is setting clear goals or meeting deadlines. There are constant markers to aim for and a structure. For me, going on maternity leave took away this reassuring drum beat of my usual routine. There is no one there to affirm that you’re doing a good job. It can be a lonely time when there is this huge identity shift to deal with

Pre-natal depression is not regularly spoken about – why do you think this is?

I found it difficult to speak about because it felt as though there was a constant pressure to be positive, even though pregnancy left me feeling swollen, nauseous, and anxious. At times it felt like everyone was constantly saying how blessed I was. It left me feeling that there was no validation to how I might be feeling.

Equally, in terms of social media, there’s still an overwhelming skew towards these picture perfect posts about day to day life. It can feel as though there is no space to post about pre/post-natal depression. The conversation is slowly changing as more people are willing to show their real self. This in turn is gradually creating a community of new parents who have gone through the same thing which is comforting and reassuring to be a part of.

How can we (companies, individuals, networks) raise awareness of pre-natal depression?

Companies, individuals, and networks need to find a way to normalise the conversation. Some topics (like the importance of a strong pelvic floor, or miscarriages), are becoming more commonplace, however, pre/postnatal depression remains somewhat of a taboo – leaving women alone in their experience.

We need to be more open because it is not something that any parent should feel embarrassed about. It can have a real impact on every element of their lives, which is why employers have a responsibility to support.

Businesses can raise awareness by conducting training on navigating the subject, as well as talks by professionals with those experiences.

The journey is not always straightforward to becoming a parent – it can be a very challenging time, emotionally and physically. Bringing this conversation into the workplace is an important step, as it raises awareness of this issue.

How would you/how can people help those with pre/post-natal depression?

Surround yourself with a community of people that will support and encourage you. This is one of the reasons I was so passionate about my business being community-led.

Through Mamamade, we have created a platform to navigate and share all the ups and downs that come with pregnancy and parenthood. Checking in with your physical and emotional wellbeing is a constructive way to keep on top of these thoughts and feelings – and it’s something so many new parents neglect.

It can be daunting taking those first steps in reaching out and talking about mental health pre and post pregnancy.

I kept my worries to myself because I did not want to be a burden to friends or family or feel judged for not ‘embracing’ the positives of motherhood.

However, taking these first steps and sharing my experiences usually has the effect of other people confessing ‘me too, I’ve experienced that’ which is comforting to hear. The main advice I would give to new parents is to give yourself a lot of time and space. I felt this bizarre need to be out and about quickly to prove that I was coping and see lots of friends during the first two weeks after giving birth. This should be a time to rest, adjust and be with your new family.

How can companies help those struggling with mental health issues, such as pre and post-natal depression, in the workplace?

Going back to work post-pregnancy is no mean feat. It was another part of the inspiration behind Mamamade, as I returned at the same time as weaning my daughter. It felt like there wasn’t really a support system for working mothers, and this can have an impact on our mental wellbeing.

Companies are responsible for creating a supportive environment for their employees, and this is part of that. For example, supporting flexible working hours so that parents can juggle.

Going back to work can seem daunting, but with the right support in place it can be hugely beneficial, mentally. I found it gave me a sense of freedom that I had been missing.

Having said that, it is also important for colleagues to remember it takes time to readjust back into work. It feels different – you are now a new parent and coping with all that comes with this.

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