During her pregnancy with six-month-old Teddy, Charlie Aston struggled with sickness. She was also made redundant, and having moved up to Leyland from Essex barely a year before, she felt alone. "Pregnancy was quite isolating and after giving birth, you get the influx of visitors for two weeks then your partner goes back to work and the door shuts," she says. "I suffered with post-natal depression because of the isolation. It was awful."
The pressure on mothers is immense. During what can be an emotionally overwhelming time in life, many find themselves without an empathetic support network just when they feel a keen responsibility to get absolutely everything right. The lack of provision to ensure mothers' well-being is cared for struck Nicole Messham as strange. So she set up a group to change that.
Also a new mum to the now-six-month-old Mya and herself living in a new place, Nicole met Charlie through an app called Mush. "It's kind of like Tinder for mums!" says Southport-born Nicole, 29, with a laugh. The pair just "connected", and with that, Mums United Movement (MUM) was born.
A non-for-profit group set up to offer mums communal and emotional support, tailored workout classes, nutritional advice, and general friendship, MUM is fighting back against post-natal isolation, allowing mothers to connect with those in the same boat as them to share advice and talk about anything and everything that isn't Peppa Pig.
"MUM stemmed from [Charlie and I] both wanting to make friends and not deal with motherhood on our own," said Nicole, who now lives in Wigan. "The response has been overwhelming. Mums have said it's been a lifeline, helping them feel like they're not alone, which is such a touching thing to hear. It's incredible how it's grown into such an organic community which is all about removing elements of self-doubt. It's helped me tenfold and we just want mums to know were here."
Charlie, 25, added: "I wanted to meet new friends but, when you're a new mum, going outside can be daunting; you just feel like everybody's judging you. Post-natal isolation is a massive issue that needs to be addressed, and that's what MUM is all about. It allows you to say you're sick of watching Peppa Pig and you just want to have a coffee and talk about normal life and not have to make funny noises with someone who can't communicate back to you."
From group walks and swimming trips to their weekly coffee groups on Tuesdays in Wigan and Thursdays in Bamber Bridge, MUM is flying.
"Lots of mums, myself included, can be scared to try something new with these fragile little babies, so to have a unit that you can depend on and do activities with is so nice," said Nicole. "And we see such a noticeable impact on the mums themselves. You question your identity when you become a mum, so to see them grow in confidence in a community that makes them feel understood is amazing."
Charlie agrees. "People are making lifelong friends and doing stuff outside our meet-ups as well as taking advantage of the support network," she said. "I've seen a massive difference in people; it's really rewarding to see people come on in themselves and gain confidence in themselves as mums."
MUM now has hundreds of followers on Facebook, all on hand to offer an empathetic ear to those looking for a community which understands the highs and lows of motherhood. Appreciating that mental and physical fitness go hand-in-hand, the group also has a Nourish and Flourish programme in which Nicole - a personal trainer qualified in post-natal training - runs low-intensity fitness classes to which mums can bring their babies.
"Nourish and Flourish allows mums to take care of their mental and physical health; it's focused on mind, body, and soul," said Nicole. "Mum's often don't appreciate just what their body has done; they immediately think 'I need to lose my baby weight', but we should be focusing on healthiness. We encourage mum's to improve their well-being, but we don't tell them they can't have this or that - it's too much pressure.
"Mums don't need more pressure," Nicole adds. Here here.