In-home program helps new mothers overcome postpartum depression
Anywhere from 11 to 20 percent of women who give birth each year have symptoms of postpartum depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But of those women, only an estimated 15 percent ever receive any kind of treatment.
Mothers and Babies, a program designed to increase the number of women who receive help for their symptoms, will roll out in all 32 of Florida’sHealthy Start Coalitions this summer.
Funded by the Florida Association of Healthy Start Coalitions, the Mothers and Babies program will train Healthy Start home visitors, whose job requires following up with women during pregnancy and after childbirth, to help mothers manage stress and symptoms of postpartum depression in the comfort of their own homes.
“Our home visitors, who already have relationships with these moms, will be able to go into their homes and deliver the program just like they’re delivering any other kind of service that Healthy Start is offering,” said Shon Ewens, executive director of the Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County.
Roughly 1,800 women — representing a little over half of all birthing mothers in Sarasota — seek out the coalition’s services each year. As a state and donor-funded initiative dedicated to promoting infant and maternal health, Healthy Start has long had postpartum depression on its radar.
But changes in state funding three years ago made it harder for the coalition to connect mothers with needed therapy services, Ewens said.
The in-home, one-on-one structure of the Mothers and Babies program makes it more accessible for women who may have transportation or childcare issues, or who may not feel comfortable seeking out help elsewhere, says Dr. Darius Tandon, associate director of the Center for Community Health, Institute for Public Health and Medicine at Northwestern University, which created the program.
Tandon and his colleagues developed Mothers and Babies to make it user-friendly for moms. A big component of the program is to promote self-care and pleasant, simple activities moms can use to help manage symptoms of stress and depression. But it’s not just about mom.
“We teach moms about pleasant activities they can undertake, but what might be a pleasant activity for the mother is also something that can help form an attachment between the mom and the baby,” Tandon said.
The stakes are high for infants of mothers who go through postpartum depression, he adds. Moms who have untreated depression may be less engaging or attentive with their children, which could lead to negative socio-emotional outcomes for babies during the crucial period of life when they’re first learning to bond with others.
Researchers have found that mom’s depression may impact a baby’s development, and some long-term studies have noted links between exposure to depression in infancy and increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol in adolescents.
In research trials Tandon has conducted so far, women who received the Mothers and Babies program demonstrated reduced symptoms of depression and reported improvements in mood and stress.
Training for the program will begin next week in Tampa and conclude by the end of June.