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Series: Welcoming All Families; Working with Women of Color – Educator Information

February 27th, 2014 by avatar

By Tamara Hawkins, RN, MSN, FNP, IBCLC, CHHC, LCCE

Today, contributor Tamara Hawkins, RN, MSN, FNP, IBCLC, CHHC, LCCE finishes her two part post series “Welcoming All Families; Working With Families of Color” with a fantastic post on evaluating how well your classes are meeting the needs of Women of Color and tips and information to create a space that welcomes and celebrates WOC and their families.  While, February is Black History Month, educators have a responsibility to offer classes that are inviting and appropriate for WOC all year long. Find Tamara’s first post here. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility. 

black mother and newborn

© David Blumenkrantz

Are your classes inviting and supportive for Women of Color? Or are WOC not your “target market”? I received a comment after sharing my post about Tuesday’s Welcoming All Families; Working with Women of Color blog post; “Sadly many of my (as you say) ‘women of color’ friends, associates and even just casual acquaintances have told me straight up ‘you don’t need to do all that!’,” referring to the belief that taking a childbirth class is not really a valuable or important part of preparing to have a baby for African American women. I believe that it will take more than a few focus groups to get to the bottom of why some WOC do not feel the need to take childbirth education. In today’s post, I would like to focus on childbirth educators! How can childbirth educators be sure their classes are appropriate and inviting to Women of Color?

Prior education experiences

The first thing childbirth educators have to be aware of is that people are more likely to connect with people of their own culture. An example of this; a vegan may be more likely to seek out health care from a provider who blogs about a vegan lifestyle. WOC and other ethnic communities will seek out education from a provider they can relate to culturally. At the least, the educator will have proven to be sensitive to their needs whether those needs are cultural, ethnic or economic. Vontress writes in the Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, “Members of minority groups bring an experience of consciously having to negotiate and even survive educational treatment of invisibility or negative ultra-visibility,[ultra-visibility; being singled out or made to be the “token” Black person], lower expectations, stereotyping, hostility and even abuse.” If an expectant mother or her partner has ever had this type of experience, why would they want to sit in yet another class and perhaps have those same feelings brought up all over again? What if they are presently feeling dismissed, their concerns ignored and rushed with their health care provider? Childbirth educators have the responsibility to understand this and make our classes welcoming by using language and images that subconsciously allude to our support and equal treatment and understanding of families of color.

I am guilty of saying “the baby’s mouth and lips should look pink to indicate great oxygenation.” A WOC in class raised her hand and said, “Even brown babies?” I responded “Well, yes, especially a newborn.” Be mindful that WOC have babies of all color hues. Some babies may be dark when born and others may be very light. Darker hued mothers who have not been around newborns may not know to expect their newborn to look light skinned.  A culturally sensitive childbirth educator should mention this fact, so that all families can be prepared. During early pregnancy class, talk about how WOC may experience expansion of the areola and that yes even though they may have dark areolas to start, the areolas can get darker. In discussions about nutrition, talk about soul food cooked in a healthy flair. Remember that the standard American diet is not a one size fit all solution. The Physician Committee for Responsible Medicine mentions 70 percent of African Americans are lactose intolerant (compared with only 25 percent of whites) and may suffer from cramping, diarrhea, and bloating after eating dairy products. Encouraging a WOC to have cheese and yogurt to get calcium and added protein may not be the best advice. Offer alternatives that are appropriate for everyone.

Marketing and teaching materials

Next, evaluate your marketing materials. Have you placed images of women of color on your website, brochures, and social media pages? Do you keep up with the health disparities and concerns for women of color? Do the images on your classroom walls or your teaching posters represent a wide variety of ethnicities?

Review your teaching materials. Do you show birth and breastfeeding images of WOC? Are there images of WOC exercising, eating well, and asking questions of their care providers? In order to effect behaviorial change, one has to be able to envision oneself doing something similar. A great example is a commercial from fatherhood.gov. This videos features an African American dad learning cheerleading moves with his daughter with the grandmother listening and approving of the interaction in the background. AA women love this commercial because we remember performing the same type of cheers when we were young. This type of imaging will promote interest in fatherhood and also plant a seed in the minds of some men that it’s okay to spend daddy-daughter time, maybe even doing something fun or a little silly. The commercial would not be as effective if it showed a Caucasian father doing the same thing. There would be no connection. And if there is no connection, there is no assimilation, and therefore no change in behavior. When expecting parents can see themselves in the “role models” then they can see themselves emulating this behavior with their own children, or their own birth or breastfeeding experience.

Be ready to make change

Once your evaluation is complete, make some changes. There are not many sources to purchase ready made childbirth class images of women and families of color. Don’t hesitate to create your own. Look for images of AA couples on sites such as Shutterstock, Corbis Images , iStockphoto, or Fotosearch. Then use some creativity to create posters and images you can use! Or better yet, have a contest in your classes, asking them to create a poster. Invest in videos that show women of color birthing and breastfeeding. I use Injoy’s products in my classes as I find their videos do a good job representing multicultural families.

In Injoy’s “Miracle of Birth 4″ video, Natasha’s birth shows a biracial couple experiencing a birth supported with analgesia. In “Understanding Labor 2″ and the “Miracle of Birth 3,” Chelsea’s birth follows a young African American couple as they have an epidural birth with augmentation. Daniela’s birth follows a bi-lingual Spanish speaking couple as they have a cesarean birth. Injoy offers an option to purchase these videos individually which is great for a limited budget. The Baby Center has a video of Samiyyah‘s birth center birth which can be imbedded in PowerPoint presentations or played on a monitor. Unlike the well edited and discreet videos Injoy offers, this Baby Center video feels raw and uncut. Be prepared with Kleenex. This birth is a great lead in into discussing orgasmic birth, normal birth emotions, vocalization for pain relief and the fetal ejection reflex during pushing.

Language used when addressing health concerns of African American women is important. As an instructor, you don’t want to talk about pre-eclampsia and preterm birth in a manner that assumes that AA women should already know they are at higher risk for these diseases, but rather frame it as health care workers and researchers are uncovering higher rates of pre-term birth, diabetes, cesareans and lower rates of breastfeeding in the AA community. Presenting these subjects in this fashion, as an awareness among health care providers, may remove any feelings of guilt or negative self-consciousness for those who may not know the information ahead of attending class. Sources to find information related to women of color include Office of Minority Health, March of Dimes, Womenshealth.gov and Women’s Health Guide to Breastfeeding.

Create an event

Consider bringing in guest speakers to your class. Is there a WOC birth advocate in your area that has a large following? Collaborate with her to spread the word. Can you host a Twitter chat or Facebook party discussing your intent to serve the needs of WOC and clarifying the wants and needs of your birth community. Have WHO code compliant corporations donate products for a baby shower or a baby fair. Ideas for a fair may include a pediatric dentist who discusses the important of infant oral care. Bring in a safety expert who will discuss and demonstrate car seat safety and installation. Have a prenatal fitness expert and/or nutritional counselor to discuss food and the connection to gestational diabetes. A community midwife or OB can discuss the impact of lifestyle choices on the risks of developing pre-eclampsia, diabetes related to induction and cesarean births and low birth weight babies. Conclude the event with a game show set up like Family Feud with topics covering medical options, comfort techniques and support strategies for breastfeeding families. Having a fun event always draw crowds.

Offer tiered pricing

Are your classes accessible on an economic level? Do you accept insurance or have a sliding scale for families. The National Health Service Corp has a great resource on how to set-up a discount fee schedule. Is your practice set up to accept social service coupons or Medicaid for childbirth class subsidies such as what Washington State offers? The Kaiser Family Foundation reports 27 states out of 44 that responded to their Medicaid Coverage of Prenatal Services Survey offer coverage for childbirth education. Independent instructors will have to research their own state Medicaid offices for specific information on provider eligibility and reimbursement rates. When receiving reduced fees or subsidies, it may be tempted to schedule classes during the day. Please remember even people on Medicaid or WIC have jobs. Let’s respect that and offer flexible schedules for classes in the evening and on weekends.

Can you set up scholarships? Human Resources and Services Administration has several large grants available to serve the maternal child health community. The March of Dimes has scholarships available for grants reducing disparities in birth outcomes. The What to Expect Foundation has a new program to teach practices that build a healthy pregnancy. The wonderful Kellogg Foundation is another resource to tap into for help building a program to be inclusive and inviting to women of color.

Community connections

Do you have local resources so you can connect AA women to WOC birth workers that share their ethnicity and culture? Sista Midwife Productions has a resource list by state of birth workers of color. If we have to refer out to help a mother feel more comfortable and get what she needs rather than what we have to offer, that’s a win-win situation.

Educators need to learn from the clients they serve. We have to ask the community what information is important to WOC. The Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association can serve as a template to build networks that educate and support pregnant WOC. Invite mothers and fathers of color to lead groups for expectant parents. Groups can cover topics such as how to have conversations about birth options, cultural expectations of birthing mothers and parenting styles and ethnic cooking with a healthy spin and specific topics related to controlling or preventing gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia, reducing cesarean birth and increasing breastfeeding success.

In order to attract WOC to our classes, educators need to become culturally sensitive and appropriate. Evaluations of our marketing and teaching materials are in order to ensure inclusion of AA women. Educators have to be up to date on the statistics and health facts and challenges facing AA families. Our hospitals, birthing centers, birth support groups and networks should brainstorm ways to fund and provide scholarships and/or grants to make classes economically feasible. Lastly, if we are serious about supporting all mothers and helping them to have a safe and healthy birth, let’s build and support local birth support groups.

Change can be challenging. Start with small goals. The first step is self-evaluation. What had been working and what can be improved? Share your resources? Where do you find images and videos that are welcoming to women of color and all ethnicities? After you have evaluated your program, come back and let me know what worked and did not work. If you need some help, please contact me. I’m excited to try some of these resources myself. I’ll keep you posted on my Facebook page.

References

Vontress, C. “A Personal Retrospective on Cross Cultural Counseling.” Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 1996, 24, 156-166

About Tamara Hawkins

tamara hawkins head shotTamara Hawkins, RN, MSN, FNP, IBCLC, CHHC, LCCE is the director of Stork and Cradle, Inc offering Prenatal Education and Breastfeeding Support. She graduated with a BSN from New York University and a MSN from SUNY Downstate Medical Center. She is a Family Nurse Practitioner and has worked with mothers and babies for the past 16 years at various NYC medical centers and the Elizabeth Seton Childbearing Center. Tamara has been certified to teach childbirth classes since 1999 and in 2004 became a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.  Follow Tamara on Twitter: @TamaraFNP_IBCLC

Babies, Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Infant Attachment, Newborns, Parenting an Infant, Series: Welcoming All Families , , , , ,

A Functional Medicine Approach to Perinatal Mental Health – Part Two

February 20th, 2014 by avatar

In a two part post this week, regular contributor Kathy Morelli shares information about and an interview with Kelly Brogan, MD on her nontraditional approach to working with women who are dealing with perinatal mental health issues.  Today in part two, Dr. Brogan shares information on incorporating a whole body Functional Medicine approach alongside traditional Western medicine to help and support women dealing with postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. Part one of this short blog series ran on Tuesday. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

Kathy Morelli (KM): In the news, there’s been a lot of information about the negative impact of a dairy-gluten-and- sugar based diet on the body. Can you tell us a bit about the impact of gluten and sugar on thyroid function after childbirth? Can you reference research on this?

Kelly Brogan, MD (KB): Yes, there’s an explosion of research implicating the immune-modulating and inflammatory effects of gluten and sugar (often co-occuring). Many individuals perceive that they are totally “fine” until that day when they’re not. In reality, there has been a long period of “incubation” of their symptoms.

Istock/GoldenKB

Istock/GoldenKB

When it comes to autoimmunity, we know that the postpartum population is very vulnerable to new onset autoimmune disorders, and we know that autoimmunity requires three ingredients: genetic susceptibility, environmental trigger, and intestinal permeability. This has been well-established by Dr. Alessio Fasano of The Center for Celiac Research.

We know that gluten causes an inflammatory response in all people, locally, in the intestine, and that in a subset of about 80% of people, it provokes intestinal wall changes that allow for compounds, food particles, and bacterial molecules called LPS or lipopolysaccharide into the blood stream. In animal models, LPS is used to induce “depression”. There is a large literature, since 1991, establishing the role of inflammation in depression, including in the postpartum depression population.

We also know of a process called molecular mimicry, whereby, immune responses to a food particle or pathogen can lead to attacks on our own body because of common amino acid structures.

We know how to modify inflammation through diet, and we know how to support appropriate immune response through nutrients such as Vitamin A, D, Alpha Lipoic Acid, probiotics and others. I have written about the research supporting these claims on my website if you are interested in the references, but suffice it to say that elimination of gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and sugar is my first step with patients and a primary reason that I no longer need to use medication. It’s quite powerful.

 KM: And can you elaborate on the impact of dairy products on brain health? Can you share a research article on this?

KB: I don’t think that dairy is an issue for every person with mental health symptoms, but I believe it is a compelling variable to control for.

But sure, I can talk about dairy and its impact on health. In schizophrenia and bipolar, in particular, there are papers discussing the role of casein antibodies in clinical presentations. Some of these papers are listed in the references at the end of this article. Some speculation about the reasons that casein, a protein, particularly from Holstein cows which we use in America, is stimulating to the immune system, relates to its being heavily processed – homogenized and pasteurized – so that the fats and nutrients are no longer in their natural state and are provocative to the immune system.

In a paper by Severance et al (2010), they found that new onset and long-term schizophrenics were 8 times more likely to have circulating antibodies to casein than controls and up to 16.5 times more likely in a subgroup of those with psychotic depression.

kelly brogan head shot

© Kelly Brogan MD

In a separate study, this team found similar results in the setting of Bipolar I diagnosis and found that medication treatment did not mitigate this immune response. In a study this year, Li et al (2012) found that new onset schizophrenia was associated with immune activation and a 34% increased risk of developing schizophrenia if their levels of antibody were 2 standard deviations elevated. Casein and gliadin (a component of gluten) interact with opiate receptors in the brain in an unpredictable way.

KM: Based on your research and clinical practice, looking at it as a public health issue, do you believe that the overall public incidence of postpartum depression and anxiety can be reduced by educating women about modifying their diets and lifestyles?

KB: Absolutely and unconditionally, yes. Conventional psychiatry has made no progress with regard to identifying markers for vulnerable populations. We are overly focused on serotonin and examination. Research by Oberland et al (2008) into serotonin transporter polymorphisms has been confusing and inconsistent.

We must look at the cumulative burden that pregnancy places on some women and how it exposes the dysfunction of their interrelated neuroendocrine systems resulting in depression, anxiety, and psychosis as non-specific indications that there is lifestyle imbalance and inflammation.

I have a detailed research article about the Neuro-inflammatory Models of Postpartum Depression published here for your further reference.

KM: Based on your research and clinical practice, do you believe that the personal incidence of postpartum depression and anxiety can be reduced for a woman modifying her diet and lifestyle?

KB: Yes. In my clinical practice, with the preventive cases that I work with, I have yet to have an incidence of a woman with postpartum onset symptoms, including those women with previous history.

KM: I’ve heard you lecture about the nutrient deficiencies and dietary factors that could feed into an occurrence of postpartum psychosis. Based on your research and clinical practice, do you believe that the incidence of postpartum psychosis can be reduced by a woman being aware of the risk factors and modifying her diet and lifestyle?

KB: I am very interested in research like that of Bergink et al (2012) that suggests a significant overlap between thyroid autoantibodies and postpartum psychosis.

We know that these antibodies portend endocrine dysfunction and we know that thyroid stimulation can result in psychosis. We also have precedent, in the literature of bipolar and schizophrenia being induced by nutrient deficiencies, even as simple as niacin.

It is myopic to abandon simple and potentially effective interventions in the interest of medicating these patients, particularly because of the established incidence of mania and violence toward self and others with SSRI treatment. I believe these medications, in the postpartum population account for incidences of violence that might have otherwise been avoided. Ssristories.com explores these cases.

KM: In the hierarchy of risk factors for perinatal mental illness, such as an individual’s previous history and family history, where do you think the role of lifestyle management and diet modifications fall?

KB: I think that it trumps all other risk factors, and this is because of what we have learned about the 98% of “junk DNA” that we found after the completion of the Human Genome Project.

This is called “epigenetics” and refers to the role of lifestyle or the “exposome” to modify gene expression within one lifetime.

We outsource much of our bodily function to out bodily microbes, as well, which outnumber our human cells 10:1. This is exciting and empowering because it means that we are not condemned by our family histories or genes. We can change them with each bite off a fork, with each step, and with our home environments.

KM: In your work, you do a thorough assessment and then work carefully to support a woman to taper off their psychotropic medications, if possible. Do you advocate that a woman go off of her medications without supervision?

KB: I do not recommend that women go off their medications without supervision.

My initial consultation is 2 hours and I work intimately with patients during tapers. As I deal with some complicated cases, I require patients to optimize their health and wellness prior to initiating a taper to confer resilience and assure adrenal hormone reserves which are often highly perturbed during a taper (the impact of SSRIs on glucocorticoid functioning is well understood).

Then, we initiate a taper that can take 1-2 years.

This is the most responsible way to do it, and keep in mind it cannot always be done.

This is why I believe that true informed consent prior to beginning a medication must include disclosure of dependency. It is not the original symptoms returning, as I was taught to parrot in my training, it is drug-induced withdrawal and associated “relapse” that often looks like agitation and profound anxiety, often novel symptoms to the patient who has never experienced such autonomic nervous system disruption.

KM: Generally, how do you help a woman who is depressed preserve the breastfeeding relationship, if she states that she wished to do so?

KB: Great question. I believe that lactation support is non-optional and must be daily for the first week and perhaps even the first several weeks. Women need to be supported to nurture this skill and to protect it at all costs. They can’t do it alone (in my observation). Here is a link to more information I’ve published about how to help meet breastfeeding goals.

Once lactation is in place, and supply is established, breastfeeding becomes protective of depression. I will be publishing an article about studies supporting this in the coming weeks. I also encourage pumping early (beginning at 2 weeks) so that there is flexibility around night feedings with partner support.

Basically, we have a crisis of failed lactation that I believe relates to environmental toxins called endocrine disruption, undiagnosed thyroid conditions, and insulin resistance from high sugar diet. >Of course, in the end, it’s a woman’s decision to care for and feed her infant as she sees fit. Here’s a link to some very detailed information about finding safe organic formula products.

KM: What do you recommend as readily available methods a woman can do herself to help her heal postpartum depression and anxiety holistically?

KB: I certainly recommend consulting with a holistic provider such as a naturopath, acupuncturist, homeopath, or certified physician. That said, dietary modification, mild exercise, and 20 minutes daily or relaxation response is a great place to start.

KM: What are some of your other projects going on now?

KB: My cup runneth over! I am writing a book that I hope will be a resource to the women I cannot personally see in my busy practice. I maintain an active blog at www.kellybroganmd.com and am also on Huffington Post. I am directing a conference and participating in several in the coming year, and will be providing a course with Aviva Romm, MD to help educate women about holistic health. Fearless Parent will be very active throughout the year with events, blogs, and weekly radio shows to help parents navigate all of the information that comes at them in the realm of thoughtful parenting. Join us!

KM: Thank you for your valuable time & input!

KB: My absolute pleasure. Your interest and support mean a lot to me, as does the mission and educational dedication that Lamaze upholds. I’m an enormous fan!

How do you feel about the information that Dr. Brogan shared?  Have you or your clients had any experience with Functional Medicine?  Would you provide this information to women along with more traditional recommendations, for them to explore when they are being treated for perinatal mood disorders? – SM.

References

Bergink V. et al. Prevalence of autoimmune thyroid dysfunction in postpartum psychosis. British Journal of Psychiatry, 2011;198:264-8. Epub February 22, 2011.

Black, M.M. (2008). Effects of B12 and folate deficiency on brain development in children. Food and Nutrition Bulletin, June (29), 126-131.

Brogan K. (2013). Putting theory into preliminary practice: Neuroinflammatory models of postpartum depression. OA Alternative Medicine, May 01;1(2):12.

Dickerson F, Stallings C, Origoni A, Vaughan C, Khushalani S, Alaedini A, Yolken R. Markers of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease in bipolar disorder. Bipolar Disorder. 2011 Feb;13(1):52-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-5618.2011.00894.x.

Fasano, A. and colleagues at the Celiac Center, numerous medical research articles.

Jackson, J., Eaton, W., Cascella, N., Fasano, A., Kelly, D. (2012). Neurologic and Psychiatric Manifestations of Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity.Psychiatric Quarterly, 83(1), 91-102, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11126-011-9186-y

Li J, Harris RA, Cheung SW, Coarfa C, Jeong M, et al. (2012) Genomic Hypomethylation in the Human Germline Associates with Selective Structural Mutability in the Human Genome. PLoS Genet 8(5): e1002692. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002692

Niebuhr DW, Li Y, Cowan DN, Weber NS, Fisher JA, Ford GM, Yolken R. Association between casein bovine antibody and new onset schizophrenia among US military personnel. Schizophrenia Research, 2011 May;128(1-3):51-5. doi: 10.1016/j.schres.2011.02.005. Epub 2011 Mar 4.

Oberland, TF, Weinberg, J, Papsdorf, M, Grunau, R, Misri, S, & Devlin, AM (2008). Prenatal exposure to maternal depression, neonatal methylation of human glucocorticoid receptor gene (NR3C1) and infant cortisol stress responses. Epigenetics, Mar-Apr,3(2), 97-106.

Severance EG, Dupont D, Dickerson FB, Stallings CR, Origoni AE, Krivogorsky B, Yang S, Haasnoot W, Yolken RH. Immune activation by casein dietary antigens in bipolar disorder. Bipolar Disorder. 2010 Dec;12(8):834-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-5618.2010.00879.x.

Perlmutter, D. (2011). Grain brain: The surprising truth about wheat, carbs, and sugar – Your brain’s silent killers. New York: Little, Brown & Company

Depression, Guest Posts, Infant Attachment, Maternal Mental Health, Perinatal Mood Disorders , , , , , , ,

A Functional Medicine Approach to Perinatal Mental Health – Part One

February 18th, 2014 by avatar

 In a two part post this week, regular contributor Kathy Morelli shares information about and an interview with Kelly Brogan, MD on her nontraditional approach to working with women who are dealing with perinatal mental health issues.  Dr. Brogan shares information on incorporating a whole body Functional Medicine approach alongside traditional Western medicine to help and support women dealing with postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. Part two of this short blog series runs on Thursday. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

Creative Commons Image: Pamela Machado

Creative Commons Image: Pamela Machado

I’ve been interested in Integrative medicine for many years. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from Science & Sensibility readers and my psychotherapy clients that they are very interested in holistic approaches to their health.

On a personal level, I struggled with depression at different times in my life. Nineteen years ago, I suffered a long postpartum depression. I didn’t want to take any psychotropic drugs as I was breastfeeding; there wasn’t much research available then about medication and breastfeeding. I looked for other ways to heal. In the short term, homeopathy is what healed my severe depression. On a longer term basis, I studied many forms of mindbody healing: diet, exercise, bodywork and professional counseling techniques have been my holistic program for mental and physical health. I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t had depression in 17 years.

On a professional level, in my clinical practice, I’ve seen the whole gamut of results in my clients’ levels of anxiety and depression when using psycho-trophic drugs: successful, lackluster and very poor results. So, I’m always searching for complementary and gentle therapies to add to my own toolbox and referral list to improve my clients’ mental health.

Disclosure: I want to clarify that I’m not a doctor and I’m not licensed to prescribe medication, but in my role as a licensed counselor, I often share clients with psychiatrists, who do prescribe medications.

Medication Taper: I want to clarify that this article does not suggest that women should discontinue their medication.

In some ways, what is old is new again! Conceptually, functional medicine (FM) mirrors the approach of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which approaches the patient from a holistic level. However, functional medicine is an evolutionary development in the practice of modern conventional medicine. FM is a systems biology approach. FM uses all the tools now available to the modern medical doctor: current assessment and diagnostic technology, cutting edge research into the interaction of the endocrine, gastrointestinal, and immune systems with our environment and treatment with a range of integrative and pharmaceutical medical therapies.

A doctor trained in this sophisticated approach performs a personal and careful assessment of an individual in order to find and then correct the underlying imbalances in the body, rather than treat separate symptoms. This is a departure from the conventional “organ based” practice of medicine, whereby the focus of diagnosis and treatment of a person is set up in silo-like medical specialties.

Dr. Kelly Brogan practices Holistic Women’s Psychiatry in this manner. She has impressive academic credentials, having studied cognitive neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and medicine at Cornell University Medical College. She is Board Certified in both Reproductive Psychiatry and Integrative Medicine and certified in Endocrinology. She is a leader in Functional Medicine. For her clinical work in Holistic Women’s Health Psychiatry, she analyzes and combines the research from the intersection of these three fields. She has appeared at many conferences, including the recent 2013 Postpartum Support International conference, the 2013 Lamaze International conference, is the Medical Director at Fearless Parent, blogs for Green Medical Information and has blogged for Postpartum Progress.

At her private practice in New York City, she offers a supervised lifestyle and food-based approach for women to manage perinatal mood disorders without psychotropic drugs.

This article is meant as an introduction to a different medical approach to women’s mental health. The functional medicine approach integrates the emergent research of the past three decades that suggests that a modern diet high in processed food, carbohydrates and sugar not only impacts the body with such chronic diseases as diabetes and heart disease, but also impacts brain health and contribute to the rising rates of mental illnesses such as depression and postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis and more severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.

Kathy Morelli (KM): Dr. Brogan, I was excited to discover your work via the Fearless Parent website, where you’re the Medical Director. You’re also active on the Green Medical Information website, where you regularly blog and present webinars. I admit, I was at first skeptical. However, after attending your webinar, and finding the information to be so very detailed and well-researched, I’m very intrigued. How did you become interested in your particular niche, Reproductive Psychiatry and Maternal Mental Health?

Dr. Kelly Brogan (KB): My post-residency fellowship training was in medical psychiatry, which is looking at how bodily problems like infection or liver disease can cause psychiatric symptoms. I specifically focused on reproductive psychiatry and the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders related to menses, pregnancy, and postpartum.

Despite my extensive training in helping women to navigate the risks and benefits of medication treatment during this vulnerable time period, I found that many women chose to discontinue medication.

Because of this and also because I wanted to help the women in my care optimize their health for anticipated or current pregnancy, I decided to investigate some common body-based drivers of psychiatric symptoms. I focused on these areas of the body: thyroid and adrenal dysfunction, food intolerances and gut infections, and sugar imbalances, rather than solely looking at the neurochemistry of the brain.

I also began to research what evidence there was to support mood-enhancing treatments that were also beneficial to the baby (given maternal deficiency) such as vitamin D, fatty acids, magnesium, and b vitamins.

Now I focus on inflammatory models of depression and anxiety and look at environmental exposures first and supporting the immune system and minimizing inflammation second. I haven’t started a patient on an antidepressant in some time.

KM: Dr. Brogan, as I understand it, you approach your work by focusing on the underlying human physiology of depression and anxiety, which is impacted by such factors as a sedentary lifestyle and a nutrient-poor diet which, in turn, causes inflammation. The inflammation in the body negatively impacts hormonal and neurotransmitter production and balance, which causes mindbody ailments, such as thyroid dysfunction and depression and anxiety. How would a woman coming to your office experience her visit with you differently than she would in a conventional psychiatric visit?

KB: The backbone of my clinical interventions is a sophisticated diagnostic assessment which includes a large battery of blood work, stool samples, salivary hormonal assessments, and urinary organic acids. In this way, I can personalize interventions rather than just empirically suppress symptoms. All of my patients require expert nutritional guidance, which I support them through, as well as personally tailored exercise and relaxation response interventions.

I’ve developed deep concern for the excessive, and what I believe to be irresponsible, use of medications to manage chronic disease. We have lost touch with our body’s native ability to heal itself and to correct, through elaborate checks and balances, any disturbances.

We’ve lost touch with this because we look to doctors when we should first be looking to our homes, our plates, and our minds to see how we can better facilitate that healing process, as you have done, Kathy. I believe that psychiatric medications, but also common medications prescribed for pain, acid reflux, and high cholesterol are wreaking havoc on the body’s ability to function optimally.

Here is an example of how I work with a simpler case: A lovely woman comes in to see me. She says she has debilitating melancholic depression, no energy and brain fog. I even note some instability when she walks. When I take her history, she tells me she was put on an acid blocking medication 2 years ago for her heartburn. I ask about her diet, which is high in sugar and fried foods, which is most likely causing her stomach discomfort. It’s well known clinically and in the research literature that long-term suppression of stomach acid blocks the absorption of the essential B12 vitamin.

Did you know B12 is one of the building blocks of life? A B12 deficiency is a silent condition that disrupts the myelination process, which leads to depression, confusion and eventually, to brain shrinkage. B12 protects your brain and nervous system, regulates rest and mood cycles and also keeps the immune system functioning properly. In fact, in persons over 65, B12 deficiency is linked to memory decline, brain shrinkage and a greater risk of age-related dementia, as the production of hydrochloric acid slows down with age.

In addition, because my patient is of childbearing age, it is very important to help her maintain her proper B12 levels, in order to help maintain her baby’s health. An infant born to a woman deficient in B12 is at serious risk for negative neurological symptoms, such as lethargy, developmental delays and delayed cognitive and motor development.

So, back to my patient. I’ll run a simple blood test to determine B12 levels to see if this lovely woman has either a suboptimal B12 level and/or a secondary marker of B12 deficiency. If so, I treat her with non-invasive B12, which can resolve all of her symptoms.

I do this because there are cases in the research literature describing patients receiving electroshock and antipsychotic medications before someone bothered to check their B12 levels and then successfully treat them to remission with this vitamin!

I work overtime to uncover what might be driving symptoms and driving inflammation. I don’t believe that the answer lies in a psychiatric medication, and I do believe that these medications can cause significant short and long-term side effects. Some have posited that, in addition to often containing synthetic preservatives, titanium, and gluten, medications such as Prozac contain fluoridated molecules which may impact the body as fluoride – a neuroendocrine toxin – does.

If they were seeing someone else, they might be started on an antidepressant after a 45 minute clinical contact. They can expect to take that antidepressant for the rest of their lives because few prescribers are experienced in medication discontinuation.

On Thursday, Kathy continues her interview with Dr. Brogan, sharing more information about the role of diet on the childbearing woman’s mental health and how the functional medicine approach can help to improve perinatal mental health and provide help to those who need it. – SM

References

Bergink V. et al. Prevalence of autoimmune thyroid dysfunction in postpartum psychosis. British Journal of Psychiatry, 2011;198:264-8. Epub February 22, 2011.

Black, M.M. (2008). Effects of B12 and folate deficiency on brain development in children. Food and Nutrition Bulletin, June (29), 126-131.

Brogan K. (2013). Putting theory into preliminary practice: Neuroinflammatory models of postpartum depression. OA Alternative Medicine, May 01;1(2):12.

Dickerson F, Stallings C, Origoni A, Vaughan C, Khushalani S, Alaedini A, Yolken R. Markers of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease in bipolar disorder. Bipolar Disorder. 2011 Feb;13(1):52-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-5618.2011.00894.x.

Fasano, A. and colleagues at the Celiac Center, numerous medical research articles.

Jackson, J., Eaton, W., Cascella, N., Fasano, A., Kelly, D. (2012). Neurologic and Psychiatric Manifestations of Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity.Psychiatric Quarterly, 83(1), 91-102, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11126-011-9186-y

Li J, Harris RA, Cheung SW, Coarfa C, Jeong M, et al. (2012) Genomic Hypomethylation in the Human Germline Associates with Selective Structural Mutability in the Human Genome. PLoS Genet 8(5): e1002692. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002692

Niebuhr DW, Li Y, Cowan DN, Weber NS, Fisher JA, Ford GM, Yolken R. Association between casein bovine antibody and new onset schizophrenia among US military personnel. Schizophrenia Research, 2011 May;128(1-3):51-5. doi: 10.1016/j.schres.2011.02.005. Epub 2011 Mar 4.

Oberland, TF, Weinberg, J, Papsdorf, M, Grunau, R, Misri, S, & Devlin, AM (2008). Prenatal exposure to maternal depression, neonatal methylation of human glucocorticoid receptor gene (NR3C1) and infant cortisol stress responses. Epigenetics, Mar-Apr,3(2), 97-106.

Severance EG, Dupont D, Dickerson FB, Stallings CR, Origoni AE, Krivogorsky B, Yang S, Haasnoot W, Yolken RH. Immune activation by casein dietary antigens in bipolar disorder. Bipolar Disorder. 2010 Dec;12(8):834-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-5618.2010.00879.x.

Perlmutter, D. (2011). Grain brain: The surprising truth about wheat, carbs, and sugar – Your brain’s silent killers. New York: Little, Brown & Company.

Depression, Guest Posts, Infant Attachment, Maternal Mental Health, New Research, Perinatal Mood Disorders, Postpartum Depression , , , , , , , ,

What is Pregnancy Negation? What is the Childbirth Professional’s Role?

November 14th, 2013 by avatar

Today on the blog, regular contributor Kathy Morelli shares information on an uncommon but very serious mental health disorder called pregnancy negation (pregnancy denial and pregnancy concealment) that can occur in women.  This unusual phenomena may never have crossed your radar or you may have met women who have experienced this situation.    Learn more here about this illness and what you can do as a childbirth professional, should you meet a woman or family dealing with this situation. –  Sharon Muza, Community Manager for Science & Sensibility.

Original Painting © Johann Heinrich Füssli

The research studies about negation of pregnancy generally consist of small sample sizes, so there isn’t a lot of data available about negation of pregnancy. More study is needed in order to understand this topic more thoroughly. I do see this phenomena in my psychotherapy practice, so I believe it’s a topic that birth professionals might see it in their community as well.

Negation of pregnancy, a term that encompasses both pregnancy denial and pregnancy concealment, are rare, but not uncommon, disorders of pregnancy. One in 475 pregnancies result in negation of pregnancy. A very minute portion of this statistic results in neonaticide- the act of killing a baby in the first 24 hours of life (Beier et al, 2006).

As with other psychological conditions, the underlying etiology of negation of pregnancy exists on a spectrum. The person can suffer from a lifelong, persistent “splitting” of the self due to trauma, she can suffer from a persistent biological mental illness, such as schizophrenia, or she can be experiencing a type of severe adjustment disorder.

Current research indicates that not all women who experience negation of pregnancy have previous diagnoses of serious and persistent mental illness. Some women who experience negation of pregnancy have pre-existing diagnoses of biploar with psychotic features and schizophrenia, and psychosis is part of their life experiences. But others do not have a previous diagnosis and after integrating the episode of negation of pregnancy, they adjust to their life situation and cope realistically.

Definition 

Pregnancy denial is defined as a woman’s unawareness, in varying degrees, of her pregnancy. Pregnancy concealment is defined as actively deciding and hiding the pregnancy from others. Pregnancy denial and pregnancy concealment often co-occur and occur intermittently. There is usually a great deal of shame, fear, guilt and dissociation, a strong psychological and emotional defense, accompanying this disorder. Due to the level of emotional conflict around the pregnancy, there are gradations of denial and complexity and subtlety of emotional response from both the pregnant woman and those around her.

The term negation of pregnancy is also used to encompass and describe these co-occuring disorders, whereas the internal process is called denial and the external process is called concealment. Therefore, it is considered the same process, but the woman’s defense mechanisms vary in intensity.

Neonaticide, the killing of an infant on the day of birth, is a form of infanticide that is often preceded by pregnancy denial. Neonaticide can be one of the complications of pregnancy denial.

Pregnancy denial is a real phenomena that has a long history of documentation, by doctors, mothers, their families and artists.

One famous literary exploration of pregnancy denial and neonaticide is illustrated in George Eliot’s novel, Adam Beade, published in 1859. It is the novel of a woman’s experience, examining the intersection between women’s unique emotions around reproduction and their disempowered social standing. Taking place in 1799, the story is about a love triangle involving Hetty, a 17 year old girl. She becomes pregnant out of wedlock. Hetty knows she is pregnant, but never openly acknowledges this. She knows she will face extreme shame and ostracization by the town, should anyone find out. She successfully hides her pregnancy and gives birth to her baby in a field. She commits neonaticide, abandoning her baby boy where she birthed him.

Characteristics of Women Who Negate Pregnancy

Early research indicated that pregnancy denial and neonaticide is more likely to occur  in women who are young and unmarried, where the relationship with the father is dissolving or non-existent and the woman lives at home with relatives.

However, more recent research shows that pregnancy denial and neonaticide occurs in women of all age groups, cultures and marital status in response to a conflicted pregnancy. Many women already have several other children, so it is not always the first time mother who negates her pregnancy.

Research by Shelton and colleagues (2011) indicates that pregnancy at an early age, multiple young children, a history of childhood abuse and trauma, current fear of abandonment (even if in a stable relationship), and a deprived social situation are all risk factors and common characteristics for women who negate their pregnancy.

The pathway to pregnancy denial and concealment often begins with an unplanned pregnancy. The woman has accompanying feelings of extreme fear and shame. She begins with pregnancy concealment. She hides her pregnancy with baggy clothes and isolates herself in her room. To help facilitate concealment, she sees less and less of people. Thus, she becomes more and more emotionally isolated.

Eventually, she finds she has no one to confide in. This results in a vicious cycle, and her emotional defenses develop a sense of pregnancy denial. The pregnancy denial is described by researchers as intermittent, her lack of self-awareness comes and goes and she is able to compartmentalize her pregnancy. She successfully dissociates from her body sensations.

The denial and dissociation is so potent that women often describe beginning birth pains as flu symptoms, gas pain and menstrual cramps. Women often go to the bathroom and deliver the baby silently, with others nearby. Women often describe the feeling of giving birth like having to defecate and are shocked when a baby appears.

Women in this type of delivery report dissociative symptoms at the birth and afterward when coping with the newborn. Women also often report a fantasy that the infant was preterm or stillborn. Often, sadly, the outcome for infants born to women who are experiencing negation of pregnancy are death a short time after birth, either from drowning in a toilet bowl, or hitting their head on the floor in a precipitous, unassisted birth.

Another fascinating aspect of pregnancy concealment and denial is that the family and even doctors are drawn into “community denial” by the emotional intensity of the denial. Interestingly, in one study, only 5 out of 28 women studied who negated their pregnancy had any family members inquire about their pregnancy at all (Amon et al, 2012)! Another study indicates that even long term family doctors who know the woman well will sometimes fail to diagnose the pregnancy (Amon et al, 2012).

Treatment

Treatment for negation of pregnancy is as nuanced and varied as each individual case. Whenever there is dissociation of parts of reality and parts of the self, the treatment path can include techniques used to treat post-traumatic stress. Such techniques would include EMDR, guided imagery, object relations techniques embedded in an overall therapeutic structure that balances leaving a woman’s psychological defenses intact, while at the same time helping her through her issues of denial (Anonymous, 2003).

Depending on the cause and severity of the negation of pregnancy, the processing of dissociated emotional material, the buried shame, the confusing physical symptoms, and the integration of the parts of her self could take place over an extended period of time in a safe, therapeutic atmosphere.

In general, directly asking or accusing a woman who is negating her pregnancy about her situation isn’t an effective treatment method. In order to survive, the person has most likely developed a method of dissociative “splitting” or “compartmentalizing” differing parts of the self. It is a normal psychological response to dissociate from trauma in order to survive. Dissociative coping exists along a continuum, from intermittent denial to having developed separate parts of the self to contain the trauma (Amon, 2012; Anonymous, 2003).

For example, in order to survive complex emotional trauma, such as childhood abuse, incest, rape, pregnancy from rape/incest, a woman would survive by dissociating. She may have unconsciously developed a way to “split” or “compartmentalize” parts of her self. Her unconscious coping mechanism assigns one part of the self to be covertly sexually active while another part of the self overtly maintains the social and familial facade that she is not sexually active. The psychological defenses can be so strong that she has intermittent dissociative awareness about her pregnancy and even amnesia around childbirth.

On the other hand, a woman may be experiencing a less mild form of dissociation and negation of pregnancy. She may need time to integrate her pregnancy into her life and shift towards healthy adjustment, coping and planning.

What birth professionals can do

If you suspect you have encountered a woman with this condition, be aware of your own reactions to her situation. Convey an accepting attitude about her situation. It’s best not to ask her overt questions about her circumstances. Ask open-ended questions, wait for her responses. 

Importantly, convey an accepting attitude about sexuality, pregnancy and motherhood, without being overt.

Have a good set of referrals to health professionals, including mental health professionals,  in your area. You may not be able to help her in the moment, but there may be another time you’ll see her and she might be open to accepting help. Your accepting attitude could be part of her healing and reaching out.

Conclusion

To sum up, negation of pregnancy has been documented in the popular literature and in medical literature for many years. It was once thought that negation of pregnancy only occurs in young and unmarried women, but current research shows that older women with multiple children experience this as well. It is a condition of many emotional and psychological nuances. In a very rare number of cases, can lead to neonaticide.

As a birth professional in your community, you can help by developing an awareness and understanding of negation of pregnancy as a real condition, with many emotional and psychological nuances. By being accepting and by having a solid set of referrals for her and her family if she reaches out to you. More study is needed in order to understand this topic more thoroughly. 

References

Amon, S., Putkonon, H., Weizmann-Henelius, G., Almiron, M.P., Gormann, A.K., Voracke, M., Eronen, M., Yourstone, J., Friedrich, M. & Klier, C.M. (2012). Potential predictors in neonaticide: the impact of the circumstances of pregnancy. Archive of Women’s Mental Health, 15, 167-174.

Anonymous (2003). How Could Anyone Do That? A therapists struggle with countertransference. In M.G. Spinelli (Ed.), Infanticide: Psychosocial and Legal Perspectives on Mothers Who Kill (pp. 201 – 208). American Psychiatric Publishing, Washington, D.C.

Shelton, J.L, Corey, T., Donaldson, W.H. & Dennison, E.H. (2011). Neonaticide: A comprehensive review of investigative and pathologic aspects of 55 cases. Journal of Family Violence, 26, 263-276.

Miller, L. J. (2003). Denial of Pregnancy. In M.G. Spinelli (Ed.), Infanticide: Psychosocial and Legal Perspectives on Mothers Who Kill (pp. 81- 103). American Psychiatric Publishing, Washington, D.C.

Spinelli, M. G., (2003). Neonaticide: A systematic investigation of 17 cases. In M.G. Spinelli (Ed.), Infanticide: Psychosocial and Legal Perspectives on Mothers Who Kill (pp. 105 – 118). American Psychiatric Publishing, Washington, D.C.

About Kathy Morelli

Kathy Morelli is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Wayne, NJ and the Director of BirthTouch®, LLC. She provides Marriage and Family counseling in Wayne, New Jersey with a special interest in perinatal mood disorders, sexual abuse and its impact on parenting. EMDR is one of the mindbody therapies she uses to address trauma.   She blogs about the emotions of pregnancy, birth, postpartum and couples. Kathy is the author of BirthTouch® for Parents-To-Be and BirthTouch® Healing for Parents in the NICU. Kathy has lectured on BirthTouch® at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s Semmelweis Conference for Midwifery and at birth conferences. She presents trainings to allied health/birth organizations about maternal mental health, family systems and good-enough parenting and is found on web media, such as PBS’ This Emotional Life, writing and speaking about this subject. She volunteers on Postpartum Support International’s warmline. Kathy co-moderates #MHON , a psycho-educational and supportive Twitter chat led by credentialed Mental Health professionals around mental health issues, working to reduce the stigma around mental illness.

 

 

 

 

 

Babies, Birth Trauma, Childbirth Education, Depression, Guest Posts, Infant Attachment, Maternity Care, News about Pregnancy, Parenting an Infant, Prenatal Illness, Trauma work , , , , , , ,

Postpartum Psychosis: Review and Resources Plus Additional PPMAD Resources

October 8th, 2013 by avatar

We are just a few days past the sad events that occurred in Washington DC, right near the capital, when Miriam Carey, a mother of a year old child slammed her car into security barricades and led law enforcement officials on a high speed car chase, injured federal officials and was shot and killed, all while having her baby in the car.

It is not clear at this time, what exactly led Miriam Carey to behave the way she did, but it has been suggested that she was suffering from postpartum depression.  Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PPMAD) affect approximately 20 percent of all new mothers.  While not every circumstance of PPMAD escalates into a situation like what we saw last week, we do know that many women and their families are not aware of the signs and symptoms of PPMAD, most women do not seek help and are not provided information and resources for proper treatment.  Left untreated PPMADs can become a situation where the mother may harm herself or others.

As childbirth educators and professionals who work with birthing women, it is imperative that we speak and share, both prenatally and in the postpartum period. about PPMAD illnesses, and provide resources for help.  Here is some previously provided information on Postpartum Psychosis along with great resources provided by regular contributor, Walker Karraa, PhD.  Click to see previous Science & Sensibility posts on postpartum mood and anxiety disorder topics, for even more resources for professionals to share with parents. – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.

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http://flic.kr/p/7U4sW

Despite mounting credible medical evidence of the realty of postpartum issues and their effect on the mindset of the new mother, we as a country still remain the only civilized society that refuses to legally acknowledge the existence of this illness.—George Parnham, Attorney for Andrea Pia Yates

I wrote an OP/ED recently titled, “Who is at Stake? Andrea Yates, CNN and the Call for Revolution” at Katherine Stone’s Postpartum Progress. Given the airing of the CNN Crimes of the Century featuring Andrea Yates, I compiled a brief review of the facts and resources that might be helpful in approaching the topic in childbirth education. Thanks to Sharon Muza for supporting this piece.

Postpartum psychosis (PPP) is a psychiatric emergency that requires immediate medical attention.

It has been acknowledged in medical literature since Hippocrates 4th Century (Brockington, Cernick, Schofield, Downing, Francis, Keelan, 1981; Healy, 2013). In a comparative study of epidemiological data regarding perinatal melancholia from 1875-1924 and then 1995-2005, Healy (2013) concluded:

History shows that complaints can be readily tailored to fashionable remedies, whereas disease has a relative invariance. The disease may wax and wane in virulence, treatments and associated conditions may modify its course, but the disease has a continuity that underpins a commonality of clinical presentations across time. (p. 190)

Women experience PPP. Women have experienced PPP. And women in the future could avoid this tragedy by recognizing this mental illness. PPP is frequently confused with postpartum depression in public and professional nomenclature. It is extremely important to emphasize the difference in discussion of perinatal mental health with clients and students, as the word “postpartum” means different things to different students and providers.

Postpartum psychosis is not postpartum depression, lack of sleep, or postpartum anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. PPP is a psychiatric emergency, tantamount to a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention.

Prevalence

Postpartum psychosis affects 1-2 women per 1,000 births globally, and while rare, it is an extremely severe postpartum mood disorder (Kendell, Chalmers, & Platz, 1987; Munk-Olsen, Laursen, Pedersen, Mors, & Mortensen, 2006). Postpartum psychosis (PPP) occurs in all cultures, affecting mothers across socioeconomic, ethnic, and religious communities (Kumar, 1994).

Symptoms

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis are sudden in onset, usually occurring within 48 hours to 2 weeks following birth. Postpartum psychosis represents “psychiatric emergency and warrants hospitalization” (Beck & Driscoll, 2009, p. 47).

  • Waxing and waning delirium and amnesia (Spinelli, 2009)
  • “Cognitive Disorganization/Psychosis”
    • Wisner, Peindl, and Hanusa (1994) discovered that disturbances of sensory perceptions were a feature of the cognitive disruption experienced in postpartum psychosis. These include auditory, tactile, visual, and olfactory hallucinations.
    • Memory and cognitive impairment such as confusion and amnesia (Wisner et al., 1994).
    • Agitation, irritability
    • Paranoid delusions
    • Confusion
    • Bizarre and changing delusions
    • Suicidal or infanticidal intrusive thoughts with ego syntonic feature (Spinelli, 2009; Wisner et al., 1994)

In other perinatal mood or anxiety disorders, intrusive thoughts of self-harm or harming the baby are known as ego-dystonic and are common (41%-57%; Brandes, Soares, Cohen, 2004). Ego dystonic cognitions are thoughts experienced by the woman as abhorrent, and she recognizes that they inconsistent with her personality and fundamental beliefs (see: Kleiman & Wenzel, 2010 Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts).

In contrast, for a woman experiencing postpartum psychosis, the intrusive thoughts or ideations, of harming self or other are ego-syntonic—intrusive thoughts experienced as reasonable, appropriate and are “associated with psychotic beliefs and loss of reality testing, with a compulsion to act on them and without the ability to assess the consequences of their actions” (Spinelli, 2009, p. 405).

If left untreated, some dire potential outcomes include: 

  • 5% of women who experience PPP commit suicide (Appleby, Mortensen, & Faragher, 1998; Knopps, 1993).
  • 2%-4% are at risk of harming their infants (Knopps, 1993; Spinelli, 2004).
  • As high as a 90% recurrence rate (Kendell et al., 1987)

Risk Factors

  • Women with history of bipolar disorder or previous postpartum psychosis

“A personal history of bipolar disorder is the most significant risk factor for developing PP.” (Dorfman, Meisner, & Frank, 2012, p. 257)

  • Having a first-degree relative who has bipolar disorder, or experienced an episode of postpartum psychosis
  • Current research demonstrates that contrary to popular beliefs, PPP is often the result of either bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder with psychotic features, and there is little frequency of PPP caused by reactive psychosis or schizophrenia (McGorry & Connell, 1990).

Suggestions for Educators:

Reflect/Remind/Review/Refer

Given the stigma, misinformation and confusion regarding postpartum mental illness and particularly postpartum psychosis– it is important to clearly, and objectively identify and differentiate the full spectrum of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. From the most prevalent and benign ‘baby blues’ to the most rare and severe postpartum psychosis, women and partners need accurate, accessible information to dispel myths, and give resources. See your education organization for their handouts, citations and referrals regarding PMADs in your curriculum.

Reflect back that you hear their concern. Repeat the question out loud so that others hear it. Chances are everyone in the room has a question around the topic of mental health, and as we know, 1 in 7 of the general population of childbearing women will develop a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder. Acknowledging the topic non-judgmentally by restating the question brings the topic into the room, reflects that you have heard the concerns expressed and not expressed, and that you are capable of holding the space for a quick, accurate review. 

Remind: PPP is Rare but Real

Remind class/clients that the incidence of PPP is extremely rare. Only 1-2 per 1,000 women develop postpartum psychosis. Secondly, with medical attention and treatment, PPP is preventable, and treatable. It is different than postpartum blues, depression, PTSD, or anxiety. Symptoms of PPP require immediate medical attention. 

Review the Facts

  • Rates: Only occurs in 1-2 per 1,000
  • Risk: Women with history of bipolar disorder or previous postpartum psychosis, and women with family history of bipolar disorder or first degree relative with history of postpartum psychosis are at higher risk.
  • PPP is preventable
  • PPP is treatable
  • PPP prevention and treatment require medical evaluation, intervention and care

Refer to Resources

What makes a good resource? Referring to accurate and accessible resources is an essential response to questions and concerns regarding postpartum psychosis (PPP).  Avoid any anecdotal advice regarding complimentary alternative medicine. The onset of PPP is tantamount to a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention.

Have resources available in several formats and languages just as you would for other resources regarding childbirth education. Make sure your links, telephone numbers, and local resources are working and up to date.

Resources for Women and Partners Postpartum Progress

 Postpartum Psychosis Symptoms (in Plain Mama English)

Postpartum Support International 1-800-944-4PPD

 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK

Mother to Baby (formerly OTIS)

Medications & More During Pregnancy & Breastfeeding.

(866) 626-6847

Text-4-Baby Health Info Links

References

Appleby, L., Mortensen, P., & Faragher, E. (1998). Suicide and other causes of mortality after post-partum psychiatric admission. British Journal of Psychiatry, 173, 209-211.

Beck, C. & Driscoll, J. (2006). Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders: A clinician’s guide. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77-101. doi:10.191/1478088706qp063oa

Brockington, I. F., Cernik, K. F., Schofield, E.M., Downing, A.R., Francis, A.F., & Keelan, C. (1981). Puerperal psychosis: phenomena and diagnosis. Archives of General Psychiatry, 38, 829-833.

Dorfman, J., Meisner, R., & Frank, J.B. (2012). Prevention and diagnosis of postpartum psychosis. Psychiatric Annals, 42(7), 257-261. doi:10.3928/00485713-20120705-05.

Doucet, S., Letourneau, N., & Blackmore, E. R. (2012). Support needs of mothers who experience postpartum psychosis and their partners. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecological & Neonatal Nursing, 41(2), 236-245.

Healey, D. (2013). Melancholia: Past and present. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 58(4), 190-194.

Kendell, R., Chalmers, J., & Platz, C. (1987). Epidemiology of puerperal psychosis. British Journal of Psychiatry, 150, 662-673.

Knopps, G. (1993). Postpartum mood disorders: A startling contrast to the joy of birth. Postgraduate Medicine, 93, 103-116.

Kumar, R. (1994). Postnatal mental illness: A transcultural perspective. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 29, 250-264. doi:10.1007/BF00802048

McGorry, P., & Connell, S. (1990). The nosology and prognosis of puerperal psychosis: A review. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 31, 519-534.

Munk-Olsen, T., Laursen, T., Pederson, C., Mors, O., & Mortensen, P. (2006). New parents and mental disorders: A population-based register study. Journal of the American Medical Association, 296(21), 2582-2589. doi:10.1001/jama.296.21.2582

Spinelli, M. (2004). Maternal infanticide associated with mental illness: Prevention and promise of saved lives. American Journal of Psychiatry, 161(9), 1548-1557.

 

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