Mental health, pregnancy, motherhood and the role it plays in baby’s first 1000 days

October is recognised as Mental Health Awareness month. Although mental health awareness is becoming a frequently talked about subject, there’s still not enough education programmes to support, unpack and de-stigmatise it within society and local communities.

The Department of Health aims to educate the public around mental health with the hope of reducing the discrimination attached to people who suffer from mental illness.

ALSO SEE: Understanding the mental health strain on families during lockdown

Mental health varies in severity and without the right support, it can be debilitating. For example, expectant mothers could be suffering from depression because their pregnancy brings on multiple overwhelming emotions and challenges.

“Prioritising mental health is important if we are to foster an inclusive society for all. Breaking barriers to understanding mental health needs to come with an openness to normalising it and eradicating the stigma associated with it, “says Dr Millard Arnold, University of the Free State Council member.

Pregnancy challenges

Pregnancy adds pressure on both the mother and father from a physical, financial, emotional and psychological perspective due to the changes that unfold in the process. Some expectant mothers suffer from depression either during pregnancy or after baby is born (postpartum depression) and this creates a stressful dynamic during baby’s first 1000 days.

ALSO SEE: Mental Health Check: Is it baby blues, perinatal depression or postnatal anxiety?

The importance of the first 1000 days of baby’s life

The first 1000 days of a baby’s life is a critical period during which a child’s brain forms as many as 1000 neural connections every second, a once-in-a-lifetime series of events never to be repeated during their lives.

Providing baby with the required medical care and monitoring ongoing breastfeeding and nutrition, immunisations and overall optimal care during this period is vital to ensure baby follows a healthy and stable growth process.

ALSO SEE: Your guide to your baby’s routine check-ups for the first year

It is important that mothers-to-be have a reliable support system they can turn to when feeling stressed, withdrawn, anxious or if their mental health has deteriorated.

In prioritising medical, counselling and support services to mothers, the Mother and Child Academic Hospital Foundation (MACAHF) raise national awareness in highlighting the importance of maternal mental health and overall wellness to begin their journey of motherhood in the safest and healthiest way for them and baby.

The MACAH Foundation is spearheading this by promoting the “Make the first 1000 Days Count” initiative.

How to care for your baby during the first 1000 days

Part of caring for your baby during the first 1000 days includes checking that your baby’s senses are operating at optimal capacity. This includes getting your baby’s eyesight checked so any problems can be identified early on. If infant eyecare is compromised during the first 1000 days, this could have a long-term effect on a baby’s eye development in future, especially for babies born prematurely.

ALSO SEE: Your child’s eyesight development from birth to three years

“Building a solid family foundation is important for both baby and parents so they can thrive and be equipped to cope with other pressures they may be faced with like mental health. Mental health can affect anyone; therefore, it is vital to have as much support during this journey to minimize the impact of possible trauma”, concludes Arnold.


The MACAH Foundation was established and officially launched in April 2018 as a legal Non-Profit Company with three founder directors (Prof André Venter, Prof Gert van Zyl and Dr Riana van Zyl). The foundation is registered as a Non-Profit Company (NPC) and functions as an independent body to generate third stream income and launch initiatives that would make a difference in the lives of the mothers, infants and children of Central South Africa and beyond. This project won a grant from The Carl & Emily Fuchs Foundation as part of their 50th Golden Years Celebrations. This grant has been used to enable the establishment of the NPC.

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