May has traditionally been recognized as National Maternal Depression Awareness Month, and weeks and days have been designated Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, and World Maternal Mental Health Day. I don't know which awareness event to officially recognize on Science & Sensibility so I am sharing them all. I will tell you that the topic of prenatal and postpartum mental health is something that definitely needs increasing awareness and focus. Depression and anxiety along with other mental health conditions are the most common complication of childbirth. One in five pregnant people suffers from mood and anxiety disorders and one in seven postpartum people. Non-pregnant partners can also have depression and anxiety surrounding a pregnancy or new child. One in ten partners is impacted. Parents who are suffering from a pregnancy or postpartum related mental health condition will have children who are affected by this situation.
Many people are not appropriately screened for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, mostly due to a lack of qualified health care providers who are knowledgeable in how to effectively screen, do not have suitable screening tools and don't recognize the importance of screening each and every person who is pregnant or has birthed. Pregnant and postpartum people believe (and are told) that these feelings are normal and will pass. Conditions go undiagnosed and treatment is not offered or available to many, even if they are found to be suffering from a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder.
When you teach childbirth classes, many class participants remain focused on the labor and birth, along with feeding and caring for a newborn. Not many expecting families give much thought to their own mental health and the role it plays in having all the other events go smoother and easier both before, during and after birth. It is our responsibility as educators and professionals who work with these families to raise awareness and provide resources for those that are experiencing difficulties.
Like many other childbirth educators, I hold reunions for my seven week Lamaze Birth & Baby YOUR Way series. These reunions take place about a month after the last baby is born. While I have handed out the very useful Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale during class when we cover post baby topics, I bring additional copies with me to the reunions, where I take an opportunity to check in with the families and share that this quick assessment can be a useful tool for both partners. It is a great reminder in case they have forgotten to use it as a weekly check-in. I also talk a lot during class and at the reunion about the role of the partner as a gatekeeper to assess how the birthing parent is doing.
A very useful resource toolkit where educators and others can find information for families and providers along with general information useful to anyone who comes in contact with prenatal and postpartum people can be found on the National Coalition for Maternal Mental Health website. Consider sharing this useful postpartum plan with the families you work with, to help them thoughtfully prepare for some of the challenges of adding a new baby to the family.
There are some simple and accurate infographics and posters that can be posted in your teaching space that highlight the topic of maternal mood disorders. They are available in several different languages and can be downloaded from Postpartum.net and National Coalition for Maternal Mental Health. Won't you consider
As childbirth educators and birth professionals, we recognize the importance of mental health awareness for pregnant and postpartum parents. Through our classes and professional contact, we are able to share resources and information with families. While the month of May is a time to focus awareness, the reality is that this issue must be kept in the forefront every month if families are to thrive and succeed and be as healthy as they can be.