No More "Baby Blues" - New Moms Staying "In the Pink"
By Lily Tung Crystal
Tamara had lost her job, her family lived far away, and she had doubts that she could be a good mother. Overwhelmed, she went into a tailspin of anxiety and uncertainty, and didn’t know where to turn. Tamara’s obstetrician noticed her depression and confusion, and referred her to California Pacific Medical Center’s Perinatal Care Program (PCP).
Founded by David Goldberg, M.D., chair of CPMC’s Department of Psychiatry, PCP’s mission is to help pregnant women and mothers like Tamara stay “in the pink” and in a good mood. “It’s common for up to 80 percent of women to experience the ‘baby blues,’ or mixed emotions surrounding motherhood for up to two weeks postpartum,” Dr. Goldberg explains. “But up to 25 percent of them suffer beyond that period of time and do not seek help.” And studies show that half of these women suffer alone. The condition, known as perinatal mood disorder, includes depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“There’s so much societal guilt and shame in being anything but joyful during pregnancy,” adds Prapti Mehta, M.D., PCP’s medical director. Since CPMC delivers nearly 70 percent of San Francisco’s babies — 6,500 in 2011 alone—the hospital felt that it must address the needs of these women.
The Parent-Child Connection
A mother’s well-being is key to raising a healthy child, and the first year is especially critical for the mother-child attachment.
“A parent’s emotional state directly impacts a developing baby’s brain and growth,” explains Meg Earls, Psy.D., PCP clinician and administrator. “About half of children with depressed mothers develop depression themselves — three times the typical risk. But treating a parent’s depression can profoundly decrease a child’s likelihood of developing mental illness and behavioral problems later in life.”
That’s why the American Academy of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended that all new mothers be screened for perinatal mood conditions.
The Perinatal Care Program
CPMC’s new program is spearheading those efforts with an innovative screening approach. PCP staff train professionals across multiple medical fields, including OB/GYNs and pediatricians, on how to identify and care for
women with perinatal mood disorders. Since its inception, the program has successfully identified an increasing number of mothers, facilitated their access to care, and built a safety net for both pregnant and postpartum
A sign that a new mom might need more help could be her inability to function, take care of herself, or bond with her baby. “I just don’t feel like myself” is a common refrain. She might find that she can’t eat, sleep, stop
crying, get out of bed, leave the house, or quit worrying. She may even have suicidal thoughts.
“Childbirth can be traumatic and can trigger PTSD symptoms in certain women,” says Dr. Mehta. “The demands of new motherhood can be overwhelming and destabilize a woman’s identity and sense of personal efficacy.”
How Do I Raise My Baby?
Once Tamara went through this triage process, her road to recovery began. PCP’s clinicians supported Tamara through the process of accepting her impending parenthood, and she soon gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.
Yet the challenges continued. “I was stuck at home, exhausted, nursing, alone in my thoughts,” says Tamara. “I was raising a baby, trying to look for a job, and believing that I wasn’t a good mother. Those were really low times.”
Through her work with psychologist Dr. Earls and psychiatrist Mika Auza, M.D., Tamara eventually began to enjoy parenting. Tamara is now a proud working mother of a 2-year-old.
“The program changed my life,” Tamara insists. “The doctors there listen to me, embrace me for who I am, and help me move past the negative so that I can be the best mother I can be. Without them, I don’t know what I would do.”
Signs of Perinatal Mood Disorder
- Can’t function normally or take care of herself
- Can’t eat or sleep
- Can’t bond with her baby
- Has suicidal thoughts
- Says, “I just don’t feel like myself”
- Can’t quit worrying
- Can’t stop crying, get out of bed or leave the house
Support the Perinatal Care Program
The Perinatal Care Program (PCP) wouldn’t exist without the generous gifts of donors to the CPMC Foundation. Philanthropic grants from the Foundation allow CPMC to meet the needs of the community through new services that may not otherwise be available.
The foundation was particularly impressed by the program’s interdisciplinary approach in helping both mothers and newborns. “We’re passionate about the program because it makes such a huge difference in the lives of two generations at the same time,” says Karen Jeu, the Foundation’s VP and COO.