Mums on maternity leave often struggle with loneliness

The early years are exciting, exhilarating, tender and all-around wonderful, but they can also be overwhelming, isolating and challenging, particularly for mothers who have taken time off work in order to care for their baby.

Consultancy firm ComRes recently carried out a survey on behalf of Radio 5 live, questioning 1021 women who’d been on maternity leave in the past 10 years about their experiences. It found that loneliness was an issue for nearly half of the women surveyed, with 47 per cent saying that they feel alone and 27 per cent in some way finding maternity leave a disappointing experience.

This is not to say that these women are not enjoying motherhood and the early years; the issue is much more complex than that. The good and the bad are not mutually exclusive; they can, and frequently do, come together. Given just how isolating being on ‘Baby Island’ can be, it should not be surprising that two in five women reported missing their jobs and workplaces, with one in five saying they wished they’d returned to work sooner.

After all, workplaces are not simply somewhere people go to earn money; they are also communities where professional relationships frequently cross over into personal friendships and support networks. If you take a person out of this environment where they experience regular interaction, stimulation and sense of self-worth and place them in sole care of a small dependent being, it is little wonder that feelings of loneliness and isolation arise in new mothers.

The survey underlines another recent study in which 2,000 mothers were asked about their post-birth experience: 92 per cent said they suffered from loneliness and more than half reported feeling “friendless”.

Humans are social creatures and loneliness can be pernicious. Scientists have demonstrated strong links between loneliness and insomnia, poor mental health and stress. As Prime Minister Theresa May recently said while announcing the appointment of the world’s first Minister for Loneliness, following on from the good work of the late MP Jo Cox, “For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life.”

What appears to be needed is improved support at every level: support from partners and family, support from the local community, support from employers and support from the government and all its agencies.

If you’re struggling with loneliness as a new mum or think you may be suffering from postnatal depression, speak to a healthcare professional about how you’re feeling. As this study has shown, these problems are experienced by many women, and there are plenty of people who are ready to help and advise you.