Mountsorrel Church’s Loving Service to New Parents

Becoming a new parent can be a time of anxiety, great change, and isolation; and one in five mothers will experience some sort of mental health issue during pregnancy or within a year after giving birth to their child. Postnatal support groups have been shown to help reduce feelings of stress and low mood in new parents, and often give new parents the tools to build better bonds with their babies which, in turn, contributes to their development.

So, when Alison White, one of the Children and Families Workers at St Peter’s and Christ Church Mountsorrel, learned that free post-natal groups run by health visitors no longer existed in the area, she started to think about setting up something similar herself. She spoke to her local health visiting team, who were really supportive of a new group being set up and were happy to refer any new parents to the group. And so, last year Beyond the Bump, a free post-natal support cafe for parents of babies under 12 months, was born.

“It is very relaxed”, Alison explains. “Each week we look at topics that new parents might need more information about such as sleeping, bonding with baby, play and development, weaning, mental health and birth stories. But we are open to covering anything the parents want to talk about.

“We do this using NHS videos, to ensure we are sharing the most up-to-date information and then discuss the topic, any issues it raises, our own experiences and any difficulties anyone is having.

“Of course, as with any cafe, there is a warm drink and cake for parents and we spend a lot of time chatting and getting to know each other”.

Having that time to socialise is part of what makes post-natal support groups so valuable. As Alison puts it, “Post-natal groups are an absolute lifeline for some new parents because it is a way to meet other new parents, build friendships, find support and know that you aren’t alone in any difficulties you were facing.” Those friendships can last decades, providing a source of support at each stage of parenting.

It was watching those friendships grow which was one of the most rewarding part of running the first course of sessions last year for Alison. “Seeing a group of mums encourage and support each other when one of them is nervous about introducing solid foods or another is struggling with something else, and knowing that they still meet up together six months after the group tells me it was successful and so worth doing.”

Beyond the Bump, which Alison runs with the help of Katherine, an Early Years Practitioner, and Angie, a grandmother with a wealth of experience, has also been a way for the Mountsorrel churches to connect with new families – a relationship they can build on through their Starting Rite course and Sunbeams toddler group.

Starting Rite is a five-session course, written by Revd Jenny Paddison, designed for babies up to a year old and their parents which “connects with the immense sense of wonder and joy that new parents experience and provides spiritual nurture from the outset, recognising the innate capacity for spirituality with which we are born”.

Several of the parents who came to Beyond the Bump attended Starting Rite afterwards, and it has “led to some great faith conversations”, Alison says.

Alison, who has worked with children in various settings including for social services and Rainbows Hospice, thinks churches are well-placed to support parents and young families. “There is so much pastoral care for parents that goes on amongst the noise and playing of children’s groups and activities which shows that there are so many needs not being met elsewhere”, Alison says. “If we, as church, can go some way to meeting those needs then we are making a difference in our communities.”

As well as pastoral care, a recent set of resources produced by the Gather Movement show how parent and toddler groups play an important part in children’s development and school readiness. “Beneath the surface of our noisy, messy, and chaotic sessions there is all sorts of hidden treasure. Children are learning how to interact with others, developing communication skills, gaining resilience, growing in curiosity and much more. Before we know it, the children in our groups are leaving us and starting to put on a school uniform five mornings a week. We’ve helped them prepare for that.”

First published on: 23rd April 2024
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