Pregnant parents

Maternal Mental Health Month: Breaking the Stigma

May 17, 2021 | Aderonke Ibironke, MPA

Maternal health care programs are dedicated to ensuring that new and expectant parents are supported with the proper medical care and information from pregnancy through infancy. There are numerous government programs to ensure that pregnant people and their infants can access medical services. Despite the fact that studies show that 1 in 5 new mothers experience some type of perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, also known as PMAD,1 maternal mental health has not been prioritized in the same way that physical ailments have been.

PMAD refers to any mood or anxiety disorder experienced during pregnancy or up to one year postpartum. This includes conditions like depression, anxiety, and psychosis. Pregnant or postpartum people experiencing these disorders may show symptoms such as poor concentration, loss of interest, or loss of appetite. Although many of these cases frequently go unnoticed and untreated, mental health is just as integral to a healthy birthing journey as other factors. Poor maternal mental health can have long-term consequences for both parent and child.2 Parents who experience mental health conditions are less likely to maintain recommended nutrition standards. In fact, parents who struggle with mental health often stop breastfeeding earlier.3 It is important for healthcare providers and family members to not only identify these conditions, but also offer solutions and support.

May is Maternal Mental Health Month and a perfect time raise awareness about mental health for new or expectant parents. Postpartum Support International (PSI) is working to make sure maternal mental health is a worldwide priority. Seventy percent of birthing people struggling with their mental health hide or downplay their symptoms.1 The goal is to remove the stigma surrounding maternal mental health so that they feel comfortable seeking resources and support. PSI is amplifying the message by sharing maternal mental health stories and petitioning the UN to recognize World Maternal Mental Health Day.

LHDs also play a crucial role in breaking the stigma surrounding mental health disorders. LHDs can offer specialized programs for groups impacted by mental health care disparities. Research shows that Black and Latina women seek postpartum mental healthcare at nearly half the rate of their white counterparts.4 LHDs can encourage these families to seek care by ensuring that their staff is culturally competent enough to recognize and address mental health disorders.

In addition, there are many resources currently available to pregnant and postpartum parents seeking help.

  • The National Perinatal Association advocates for timely and effective mental health support. They are dedicated to confronting disparities in childbirth, while promoting coordinated, interdisciplinary care. They offer the following mental health services:

To learn more about Maternal Mental Health Month or to find additional resources, please visit the Postpartum Support International website.

References

  1. Wisner, K.L., Sit, D.K.Y., McShea, M.C., et al. (2013). Onset Timing, Thoughts of Self-harm, and Diagnoses in Postpartum Women With Screen-Positive Depression Findings. JAMA Psychiatry, 70(5), 490–498
  2. Postpartum Support International. Depression During Pregnancy & Postpartum. Retrieved from: https://www.postpartum.net/lea...
  3. Steube, A., et al. (2019). The Mood, Mother, and Infant Study: Associations Between Maternal Mood in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding Outcome. Breastfeeding Medicine, 14(8), 551-559. http://doi.org/10.1089/bfm.201...
  4. Kozhimannil, K. B., et al. (2011). Racial and ethnic disparities in postpartum depression care among low-income women. Psychiatric Services (Washington, D.C.), 62(6), 619–625. https://doi.org/10.1176/ps.62.6.pss6206_0619

About Aderonke Ibironke, MPA

Program Analyst, Maternal Child and Adolescent Health

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