by Madeline White
Raising awareness about maternal health is at the forefront of our minds coming into 2023. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has called for all people involved in maternal health practice and the mothers themselves to take the time this January to learn and explore WHY poor maternal health outcomes occur. How can we identify the key factors that lead to poor health outcomes? What can we do as a supportive community to help women and mothers in need? The goal of this movement by ACOG is to encourage people to talk about the reason behind maternal mortality that is most important to them. One in seven women will experience perinatal depression during their pregnancy or postpartum period. Here at Cherished Mom, we know that mental health conditions are one of the leading pregnancy-related causes of death in the United States. We are here to shed light on this situation and provide resources for those seeking answers about these diagnoses.
One of ACOG’s initiatives is improving the screening and diagnosis of new mothers that may have mental health conditions. One of the most important steps in taking care of a new mom is making sure we identify what areas of her life she needs help with the most. Our goal is to help you recognize when it is time to seek help for yourself or those you love. We want you to be your own best advocate. Recognizing risk factors, signs, and symptoms of the different mental health conditions that can affect moms during and after pregnancy is of utmost importance. Things such as stressful life events, lack of social support, unintended pregnancy, violence in the home, lower income, smoking, single status, breastfeeding problems, and many many more are identifiable risk factors for perinatal depression disorders.
At the links below you can find more information defining each disorder that can affect a mom during the perinatal period:
Now let’s discuss the doctor’s visits. Your doctor should be screening you for perinatal depression and anxiety symptoms at least once during the perinatal period (defined as the period of time when you become pregnant and up to a year after giving birth). ACOG also recommends that if they screen you prenatally, they should also screen you at least once postnatally too. Some common standardized screening tools are the PHQ9 scale, Edinburgh Postnatal Depression scale, General Anxiety Disorder scale, and primary care PTSD screen. You may not realize they are assessing you because sometimes the scale is included in your pre- office paperwork, or they simply ask you questions like “do you have a change in mood, loss of interest, feel more tired?” etc.
Sometimes symptoms can hide. Maybe mom doesn’t speak about them because she believes she is the only one experiencing them, or maybe she thinks that all moms experience the same feelings, and it is normal. Either way, if the doctor does not ask about your mood at your pre or postpartum visits, don’t be afraid to bring up the subject yourself. Sometimes things are forgotten or fall through the cracks when they shouldn’t. You should feel comfortable advocating for yourself and for the care you deserve. Other times symptoms may not be noticeable to a new mom. If your partner, family member, or friend is recognizing signs or symptoms of a mood disorder, it can be a good idea to bring them along to your perinatal appointments too so they can talk to your doctor about the changes they have seen as well.
Poor maternal mental health outcomes occur because they can go unnoticed, untreated, and lead to devastating outcomes for the family. Being a new mom can be taxing. You may be tired, anxious, and having a difficult time in this new stage of your life. Know that you are not alone in those feelings. Know that you can talk to your doctor about even the smallest of your worries, and they can help support you. Know that we are here to help you with support, encouragement, and education about what you are going through. Most importantly, know WHY it is so important to ask for and accept help during this time. Strive to fight back against poor maternal mental health outcomes, and we will help you in your journey.
Here is the list of resources to keep close if you ever need them:
National Maternal Mental Health Hotline – Call 833-943-5746
Suicide and Crisis Hotline – Call 988
PSI Directory – to find a mental health provider near you
PSI Warmline for information, encouragement, and resources near you:
Join us back on the blog next month where we will discuss mapping out postpartum support before the baby is born.