The Need to Feel Safe: Build a Culture that Protects Mothers

Last week, a flood of articles and blog posts highlighting Maternal Mental Health came into the media stream. Being a Maternal Health Advocate and Expert, of course all this information and evidence spun my wheels and also pulled at some heart strings. I have had two too many of my heart people struggle with Maternal Mental Health (MMH) and Postpartum Depression(PPD), at this point in my life. Although, I have not first handedly experienced PPD, when someone you love dearly is rolling through the depths and darkness of what can seem like an excruciating period in life - it's difficult to not feel their pain and empathize. 

I imagine there is more than one of you out in this clan who has lost a mother in your life from MMH issues of some varying degree, my heart reaches out to you. For those of you who have lived through, survived and recovered from any degree of Postpartum Depression, my heart reaches out to you. 

There is no easy way to tackle PPD and MMH issues other than talking about it publicly, as moms and dads, as women, as men, as parents and as Healthcare Professionals. The conversation needs the volume and amplification. 

Let's begin! As a provider who was trained to identify Maternal Mental Health issues during the first year after of you give birth, I want to provide you with some action steps you can do to help yourself, spouse/partner, friend, sister, neighbor, co-worker or woman who might be struggling from MMH issues and needs your support. 

Critical Steps to Receive Support Early for Maternal Mental Health Issues: 

1. If your Maternal Health provider does NOT do some sort of mental health or postpartum depression screening before you exit their care at 6 weeks postpartum, please ask them for a screening before you go off into the land of motherhood. Your Pediatrician is trained to identify PPD or Maternal Mental Health issues, and will likely be the one to "identify" if you are at risk during your newborn examinations. 

Please don't skip either you 6 week postpartum visit or your first 4-month of Pediatric visits. These visits are crucial to you as a mother, and your health even if you Ped is a "baby doctor."  

2. If you are a partner, spouse, friend, sister, brother, man or woman OF A (*NEWBORN) MOTHER, educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of MMH issues or PPD during their pregnancy. If it helps you, put a cheat sheet of signs and symptoms in an app on your phone, on your bedside table. 

If you know your partner is at risk for PPD or any level of anxiety during the postpartum period (which is much longer than 6 weeks, remember), talk about it during pregnancy and with your provider. Have a licensed clinical mental health provider on board, ahead of time, in case you need to make an emergent appointment during the postpartum early months. 

*I term "newborn" mother as any woman experiencing a postpartum period, whether her first baby or her 4th, she is a newborn mother again because she always has new levels of complexity and depth after each birth and grows up with her babies. 

3. Create a phone list of providers and support team prior to the postpartum period that can help you should signs of MMH or PPD present, visible and taped to a kitchen cabinet or fridge door.  

4. If there are beginning signs of anxiety, delusional thinking, obsessive behaviors, inability to get out of bed and maintain normal routines, care for yourself/herself or baby, immediate pressures to return to work and feels unsupported - be the spouse, co-worker, friend, family member, or neighbor who has the courage to reach out and ask if there is a way you can help a mom get support.  

5. If medication is indicated, as well as clinical care and support, do not disregard this care. 

Maternal Mental Health providers and Maternal Health providers are here to support you and help you make it through a tremendously overwhelming transformation that is physiologically and physically an intense time (hormone shifts, breastfeeding, uterus going back to pre-pregnant size, sleep deprivation), and they are here to help you return to health. 

6. If you're a mom and your partner/spouse has a history of depression or mental health issues, don't disclaim the fact that they may struggle with their postpartum health ever. Make sure they have their support team in place as well, because one thing we don't talk about a lot is "postpartum" depression in men or female spouses. Everything is changing for each member of a parenting team. Both providers deserve equal support and help if postpartum mental health is an issues.

The best time to plant the seeds of awareness around MMH issues is during pregnancy. It helps both partners identify if they are at risk during the postpartum years. Have a team established during your pregnancy for your mental health postpartum: Midwives, OB, GP, therapists, Pediatricians, and psychological care providers. The risky part of MMH is that it is normal for a woman with no history of mental health issues to struggle with MMH or PPD, so every woman needs a team to support her as she transforms into being a mom. 

Let's be moved to start a revolution where we teach our sons and daughters about mental health, and we begin to take care of moms (and dads) better than ever before during the postpartum years. Let's be moved to start a postpartum health revolution. I know it's beginning, I see proof daily. 

Take action today, please share this with 5 women you love who are planning to be moms, are pregnant, or who care about another mom. If you're a man or a dad, please share this to 5 of your men friends as well. 

This basic information must be in the hands of many, I believe - as a Midwife and Maternal Health Expert. Preparation Prevents.  

Sending Big, Big Love to you, today and everyday. Thank you for coming along for this wild ride.