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Perinatal wellbeing expressed in cake

 A detail from Anna Madeley's cake. It is a hospital made from gingerbread with an NHS sign outside reading, 'Welcome to Jennie Lee University Hospital". Made from fondant icing, a nurse stands over a mother giving birth outside the hospital.

Above: Anna Madeley's winning cake 'Morning sickness - Have you tried ginger?'

Members of the WELS Postgraduate Research team have ‘done the double’ in this year’s Open University Graduate School ‘Bake Your Research’ competition.

‘Bake Your Research’ invites entrants to submit baked goods that not only need to look stunning and taste good but represent an important piece of research. Doctoral Researchers Katie Jones and Anna Madeley won in the online and ‘in person’ judging categories respectively. 

Both Katie and Anna carry out work around perinatal wellbeing within the School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care at The Open University and explained their baked research as follows:

Katie Jones' cake is shown. It is a 3-tier cake iced in white with a rainbow on top. Piped words around the cake read, 'anxious', 'guilt', 'frustrated'. Silhouettes of parents and children from birth to toddler are attached to the sides of each tier in dark brown fondant icing.‘Postpartum Anxiety risk factors, triggers, and trajectories' by Katie Jones:

Mental health difficulties are considered one of the most overlooked complications of childbirth.

Anxiety is the most common mental health difficulty experienced in the year following childbirth, affecting approximately 20% of birthing people, yet it receives little attention. As a result, symptoms are often overlooked and left unsupported, risking significant consequences for parent and child.

My research investigates the risk factors, triggers, and trajectories of postpartum anxiety experienced by women (and birthing people) in the UK in order to identify opportunities to better support families. The project is split into three stages: a rapid systematic review, a single-point-in-time mixed methods online survey, and a longitudinal online survey.

This year’s Bake Your Research is based on the longitudinal component which explores the interactions between maternal cognitions, mother-infant relations, and postpartum anxiety. The fruit cake contains ingredients to represent the underlying socio-demographic, interpersonal, psychiatric, health, and cognitive risk factors associated with postpartum anxiety. The cake is decorated to illustrate the course of the longitudinal study from late pregnancy to twelve-months postpartum and highlight symptoms of anxiety experienced at this time.  The study will examine potential mediating and moderating factors associated with postpartum anxiety, including repetitive negative thinking and social support, as well as normative mothering experiences associated with positive or negative changes in emotional wellbeing. Findings will identify opportunities for future interventions to reduce the prevalence, severity, and long-term implications of anxiety symptoms on mother and infant wellbeing.

“What an honour!” said Katie on Twitter following her win. “Huge thanks to everyone who voted and/or commented. Once again, Bake Your Research has been a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness of perinatal mental health.”

Close up detail on the hospital sign incorporated into Anna Madeley's bake. The sign is a replica of an NHS Hospital sign and reads, "Open University Milton Keynes Campus, NHS Trust, Welcome to Jennie Lee University Hospital, No A&E."'Morning sickness - Have you tried ginger?' by Anna Madeley

My bake is a subtle nod to the frequently repeated and oft lamented advice given to pregnant women and people who experience varying degrees of nausea and vomiting. Ginger is a traditional remedy (replicated in the ingredients of this gingerbread hospital), however evidence suggests that healthcare professionals suggesting ginger is perceived and experienced as ineffective, can contribute to feelings of being dismissed, and damages the therapeutic relationship (Dean and O’Hara, 2015).

The gingerbread hospital is named for Jennie Lee, who was instrumental in the foundation of The Open University and indeed laid the foundation stone on site, and was married to Aneurin Bevan, the father of the NHS as Government Minister for health in 1946. This serendipitous link between the OU and the NHS has never been lost on me as both a midwife, OU student and resident of MK, therefore the naming of the gingerbread hospital seemed most appropriate. 

My literature review has demonstrated a huge gap in knowledge around understanding the social processes around atypical choice in childbirth, particularly when those choices are challenging to society, the family, and the Institution. As my data collection progresses, how women and birthing people navigate the system is nuanced and complex, but above all remains challenging and not without degrees of resistance from the medical community. COVID, rather than creating these challenges, has thrown them into stark relief, exposing both intentional and unintentional barriers to effective safe care for cohorts who make non-normative decisions. The social processes and interactions behind and around these decisions remains largely unexplored. The scene represented here is a woman who having chosen a particular pathway for childbirth, has found herself outside of the system with healthcare professionals on the periphery.

Anna commented on Twitter, “I feel so privileged to have been the Judges’ Choice and be in such company with online winner Katie Jones. My midwife Spidey-senses tell me that you will begin to see more and more of our brilliant healthcare Postgraduate Researchers at the OU!”


The in-person judging was carried out by OU Graduate School Director Professor Lindsay O’Dell and OU Dean for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Professor Marcia Wilson. Professor O’Dell commented on the judging, “It was really wonderful to have students and other colleagues on campus for the event. There were 12 superb entries to the Bake Your Research in-person competition – which meant that Marcia and I tasted each one. I love my job!”

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