‘It takes a village to raise a child,” reflects Claire Williams. “But what I’m seeing is that nobody has that village.”

Claire is a certified infant massage instructor and reflexologist who runs her own business, Wellness by Meadows, in a studio beside the family dairy farm near Tinahely, Co Wicklow.

Since 2023, she has been offering courses in baby massage; but as well as imparting skills, she sees how her classes have become a safe space for new mothers to share the challenges of the “fourth trimester” (the 12 weeks after birth); in particular, loneliness.

A survey of over 100 Irish mothers released in 2022 by skincare company, My Expert Midwife, revealed that 75% felt isolated postpartum. It’s a statistic that resonates with Claire, both from her professional experience and her personal journey after having her son, Dylan, a decade ago.

Claire Williams

“I still see the same struggles,” she observes. “It’s still the same for mums.”

Originally from Tipperary, Claire spent time in the US before relocating to Wicklow after meeting her husband. While she found people in the area “really friendly”, commuting 90 minutes to work meant it was harder to form her own network in the community.

As a result, her early days as a mother were incredibly isolating.

“You’ve different ideas of your maternity leave,” she acknowledges. “I hear this from the mums now – that they’re going to be going out for coffee and meeting their friends – but the majority of time you’re at home and the days are very long.

“I happened to have an emergency C-section so I was at home on my own, not able to drive. My only visitor was the fabulous public health nurse and other than that, it was just me and Dylan.”


This isolation was compounded by the fact that Dylan had colic, while breast-feeding was also a struggle. Such issues caused her confidence to plummet; and anxiety to soar.

“I became anxious about how to care for my new baby,” she explains. “I felt like I should have been able to do it; but I had no one to show me how.”

At around six months, Claire opened up to her GP about how she was feeling, and made a recovery through a combination of short-term medication, counselling and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).

She later set up an award-winning skincare business, but subsequently re-trained in reflexology and holistic massage. This has led to her offering five-week courses in baby massage, as well as facilitating parent first-aid courses.

But it is clear that the opportunity to chat and connect over a cup of tea after class is just as important for new parents.

“What they divulge to each other in the classes is lovely; and it’s real,” says Claire, who believes that many feel under pressure to “be perfect” as a result of social media.

“They all have the same concerns and upsets, all the people telling them to do this, to do that, the overwhelm of advice. And the tiredness, the loneliness, [the challenge to] just to get a shower on your own.”

Claire’s baby massage courses cost €120; much of which can be recouped under certain health insurance policies. She is conscious, however, that not everybody can afford to pay privately and would love to see a situation where such classes – along with breast-feeding support, baby sensory and more – would be available through the HSE.

“Wouldn’t it be great if all these experts were employed by the HSE, in a centre, even if the parents had to pay a fiver for a class?” she proposes.

“I do think the anxiety and depression levels would be lower in the country with our mammies.”

Katie Mugan

Huge transition

Another person who is acutely aware of such challenges is Katie Mugan of nursingmama.ie, a certified lactation and feeding consultant, and co-host of The Baby Tribe podcast.

Katie has also worked as a paediatric and public health nurse, and believes that while there is greater awareness around antenatal, birth and baby care, there is still little focus on the needs of the new mother.

“I think the transition to motherhood, particularly for first-time parents, is huge and the fourth trimester is not discussed enough,” says the mother-of-four.

When Katie’s first baby was born, she was living away from home in southwest Kerry, and would drive 60km to Killarney to attend a breast-feeding group just to meet other people who were at the same stage.

“I didn’t have low mood or anything; but I really was lonely,” she recalls. “I just went to groups basically to find friends and to hang out and to have a coffee. I did that once a week, maybe twice a week… I lived for it.

“But had I had a baby that was unsettled, agitated, wouldn’t sit in the car for long spells, I was trapped; and I say it in the nicest of senses.”

Part of the problem, Katie believes, is that communities have changed, and with that, the in-built supports.

“Years ago, our mothers would have had their neighbours popping in for coffee, we had grandmothers coming over,” she says. “Whereas nowadays, a lot of people don’t live in the area that they’re from, they mightn’t know their neighbours except to say hello as they wave and pass by; and then suddenly, they have this new baby.”

She also feels there is not enough emphasis on new mothers’ well-being.

“The six-week check is for the mother and infant and I think often a lot of mothers will say, ‘Oh, I was just asked did I want contraception’,” she relates. “But I think before anything else should happen, it should be about the mother first, because they are the ones caring for this little infant.”


When it comes to making connections, Katie says a simple way to start is checking the parish newsletter or noticeboard to see what is available locally.

“It could be a mother and toddler group; I’d still say go down and check it out, because that could be where you will find new moms, new babies,” she advises. “They don’t have to be your best friend. They just have to be somebody you can go and have a coffee with and you can get out and go for a walk with, that you connect with.”

Katie adds that public health nurses can also guide new mothers on what is available; but that if a person is struggling and needs further support, to connect with their GP or perinatal mental health team.

“You always have access back to the maternity mental health team in your maternity hospital up until a year if it’s warranted,” says Katie.

The first step, though, might be for society to start talking more honestly about the transition to the fourth trimester: the challenges and the joys.

“I just don’t think we acknowledge it enough,” she surmises.

Claire Williams @wellness_by meadows on Instagram and Katie Mugan @nursingmama.ie

Five ways to find your new tribe

1 The library, parish centre or family resource centre can often be a great starting point to find groups. Check notice boards and social media pages or ask your public health nurse to steer you in the right direction.

2 Cuidiú has 25-plus branches across Ireland supporting tens of thousands of parents annually throughout the country for the past 40 years. They offer antenatal, postpartum and breast-feeding support, but many groups also organise events as coffee mornings, playgroups, walks and more. Visit cuidiu.ie

3 Signing up for a class with your baby can be a great way to meet other new parents. There are loads of parent-and-baby groups out there, such as, baby swimming (waterbabies.ie and turtletots.ie), baby sensory (babysensory.ie), baby music (playandmusic.ie; moomusic.ie) and baby sign (cleverlittlehandies.ie).

4 Ask your local yoga/Pilates teachers or gyms if they run classes specifically tailored for the postpartum period. Some local sports partnerships also offer groups such as ‘buggy buddies’.

5 For mothers who have lost a baby, maternity leave is particularly isolating. A number of organisations provide support, including Féileacáin (feileacain.ie), A Little Lifetime Foundation (alittlelifetime.ie) and FirstLight (firstlight.ie).

Read more

Out of the blue: how caring led to a new career

'Every mother wants their child to be remembered. And their grief acknowledged'