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The need for better maternal mental health planning

A new national survey reveals the pressing need for better maternal mental health planning.

The 2021 HealthyWomen survey of more than 1,000 adults found that more time needs to be devoted to preparing for life immediately after the baby is born. While maternal mental health discussions with healthcare providers occurred 64% of the time during pregnancy, those discussions diminished to 36% of the time after birth.1

The survey also revealed that among new moms and those who support new moms, like family, friends, and partners, roughly 25% do not have the tools to prepare for mental health challenges.

“We want to understand the stigma surrounding maternal mental health and identify awareness of postpartum depression (PPD) symptoms, the difference between PPD and ‘baby blues,’ and the importance of planning for the fourth trimester, which is the first 12 weeks after the baby is born,” said Beth Battaglino, RN-C, who is CEO of New Jersey-based HealthyWomen, a nonprofit organization that has inspired and empowered millions of women to take a proactive role in their health and the health of their families for 30 years.

The survey, which was sponsored by Sage Therapeutics, was conducted in August 2021. Participants comprised new moms of children aged 0 to 2 years, caregivers of new moms, and women over the age of 18 who were at least 7 months pregnant.

“What I found most interesting about the survey findings is that despite support for creating a fourth trimester plan that prioritizes a mom’s mental health, pregnant women and new moms often do not have that plan in place,” Battaglino told Contemporary OB/GYN®.

The survey revealed that although 76% of pregnant women created a birth plan leading up to their baby’s arrival, only 21% devised a plan that focused on their own maternal mental health after the baby was born.

Furthermore, 84% of those who support new moms noted it would have been helpful to have a maternal mental wellness plan that emphasized mom’s mental health in the fourth trimester.

“Moms continue to feel pressure to ‘do it all’ on their own,” Battaglino said. “And of existing moms who said they did not or would not discuss their PPD symptoms with anyone, more than one-third cited not wanting to ‘bother anyone’ as the reason.”

Based on survey results, “it is evident that there is a need for clinicians to educate patients and their support systems on the importance of fourth trimester planning and introduce patients to helpful programs and resources like Check on Mom,” Battaglino said.

Check on Mom has a tool to assist in creating a maternal mental wellness plan and an option to designate a ‘mom team’ for support through the postpartum period.

“With approximately one in eight mothers in the United States reporting that they experience symptoms of PPD each year, it is important to think about what those needs might be and what support systems can be put in place early on,” Battaglino said.

Preparing for the fourth trimester and being transparent about the level of support that is needed, and openly communicating expectations, are crucial steps before the baby is born, according to Battaglino. “Moms are more likely to experience PPD if they receive no support or minimal support from family, friends or community after the birth than women who receive appropriate support,” she said.

Battaglino said it is also imperative that healthcare providers continue to help their patients plan accordingly and for patients to engage in honest conversations about how they feel emotionally in the weeks following delivery.

Reference

1. Moms need more support: national healthywomen survey reveals postpartum mental health is not properly addressed during critical time for mom. HealthyWomen. Published October 26, 2021. https://www.healthywomen.org/News-Media/moms-need-more-support