How better screening and more information can help new mothers

About one in seven mothers in New York State reported postpartum depressive and anxiety symptoms after giving birth.

Yet, in a group of about eight mothers who work with the Postpartum Resource Center of New York, almost none of them had heard of the diagnosis, despite having shown symptoms of the condition.

They were not proactively diagnosed or treated or even engaged in a conversation with the many medical professionals they encountered throughout their pregnancy and postpartum journeys.

“The discussion should start at the very first OB appointment,” Mary Banahan said. “Just like you, ‘Want to watch for signs of bleeding, you want to watch if you have cramping,’ it should [also] be, ‘You want to watch for signs of sadness, depression, crying, anxiety.’”

All of the women—the majority of whom experience postpartum depression, anxiety, or psychosis—said screening for the symptoms needs to be integrated throughout the pregnancy process.

They also said it needs to be structured with consistency and care so parents don’t feel like the OB professional is just checking off a box.

Mary said she was asked about feelings of sadness once and then never again.

“If you address it at every single appointment it becomes rote, right, and then you remember,” Mary said. “You can’t expect a mom who is going through postpartum depression, anxiety, maybe OCD—whatever it may be—to then go ‘Oh yeah, I think at one of my appointments somebody said … ‘”

Mary and the other mothers urge medical professionals including physicians, OB and pediatricians, midwives, nurse practitioners, nurses, childbirth educators, lactation consultants, and sonogram technicians to regularly engage with pregnant parents and ask specific questions to help catch mental health issues as they arise, suggesting that any person in contact with a pregnant woman who ask about her mental health.

Another mother, Jen Rice, said she went to the doctor every other week for more than a month and in “all that time not one professional, not the doctors, not the nurses, nobody” asked how she felt.

Vanessa Barisano was in and out of emergency rooms, but not one doctor stopped to ask questions related to mental health. Had someone asked the simple question, “Have you been anxious?” she could have gotten a proper diagnosis so much earlier on.

In addition to integrating maternal mental health into the medical process, the women said medical staff should make parents aware of community resources like the Postpartum Resource Center of New York, which the women credit as an integral part of their support system.