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Published on April 27, 2021

Having a baby can be overwhelming

Postpartum

Having a baby is usually a joyous occasion for moms and their families, but the sudden change in routine, the demands of a newborn and postpartum hormones can add up to a challenging time for moms. Many find it so difficult that, without support, they can’t function in a healthy way.

The Cape Cod and Islands Maternal Depression Task Force recognized this issue in 2006 when a group of professionals who were working with local families decided to address the problem. Since then, the group has helped thousands of Cape and Islands mothers connect to services that help bring them through this difficult period.

There are three distinctions made around maternal depression, according to Mary Wilson, the driving force behind starting the task force, and still it’s director.

  • “Baby blues” is quite common and typically resolves itself once the woman’s hormones become regulated.
  • Postpartum Depression is more serious and typically requires intervention in order to resolve it.
  • Psychosis is the most serious of possible depression complications after a woman gives birth and requires hospitalization.

The Task Force members knew there was a need for services around this issue on Cape Cod, but operating without any formal funding, the task has not always been easy, Wilson said. That’s why a $21,500 Community Benefits grant from Cape Cod Healthcare this year will go a long way toward continuing the task force’s work and helping new moms adjust. While the group has secured funding from other charitable organizations in the past, the Community Benefits donation “has really taken it to the next level,” she said.

“We believe that this is going to have a huge impact on our community,” Wilson said. 

The 2021 grant supports new parents – primarily mothers – and will help fund two Task Force programs. The first is a virtual breastfeeding support group that meets at 10 a.m. on Mondays. The second program is called Support and Healing for New Moms and is designed for parents who are experiencing postpartum mood disorders. Both groups are offered on a drop-in basis.

The Community Benefits grant also covers three postpartum home visits by a certified doula and is enough to cover 45 Cape families, explained Krista Sullivan, owner of Monumental Beginnings, a Falmouth doula agency that offers prenatal and postpartum care for mothers. Sullivan and one other doula provide all of the home visits between them. Lactation consultant Suzan Scharr, RN, BSN, IBCLC, CCCE is also on staff to help with any breastfeeding issues a mother may be having.

‘Postpartum’ refers to the period of time immediately after giving birth and up to years after, according to Sullivan. Postpartum depression can occur up to two years after giving birth.

“The evidence really supports that those who have a doula (working with them after childbirth) experience postpartum depression less severely and they have higher rates of breastfeeding success,” Sullivan said. A doula’s presence in the home can also help facilitate referrals to other services that may be needed and can do it sooner and more easily than if the mom was trying to do it on her own, she said.

“We provide emotional screening, so if anyone is struggling or in crisis, we can quantify that and make referrals,” she said.

The doula also helps with hands-on baby care, allowing moms and dads the chance to take care of their own personal needs for a short time. They also help with organization of nurseries, sanitizing baby bottles, teaching parents how to bathe their newborn, as well as light household chores, she said.

“I like to think of it as non-judgmental support providing whatever that individual family may need at the time,” Sullivan said. “It’s kind of like the proverbial village and acts as a lifeline and support for them.”

Effects on Children

Cape Cod Children’s Place director Cindy Horgan knows the warmth and security a follow-up call from a caring provider can bring after childbirth. When she had her first child 32 years ago, she received a follow-up call from a community nurse. “It was such a great moment for me,” she said.

Cape Cod Children’s Place, based in North Eastham, is the lead agency for the Maternal Depression Task Force and the formal recipient of the Community Benefits grant. The organization became involved with the Task Force at its inception because they saw firsthand the effect maternal mood disorders were having on the children of these moms, Horgan said.

“When there isn’t a support system in place, I was being called in to look at children with pretty significant behaviors,” she said. “And what was clear was that they didn’t have secure attachments and very often I was sitting at the table and realizing we were looking at the wrong place because the moms were blank and weren’t able to engage with their child.”

Horgan remembers three different mothers who had children in her program who all ended up in court for operating under the influence and/or drug infractions. “What was pretty clear to me was that these were attempted suicides by these moms. They were just in such pain,” Horgan said.

Many behavioral issues for children can be traced to a lack of connection with their mother or significant other, said Wilson.

“There are a lot of outcomes that we see when children are not connected emotionally with their parent, and what happens often times with postpartum depression, and any type of depression, is that the affect of the individual can be off, the ability to motivate oneself, never mind someone else, is off. And that’s just the basic underlying depression. Then we can move to the percentage of people that have psychosis, and that, in itself, can be deadly,” she said. “There’s a range of things that can be happening with that social connection of a child and mother.”

The in-home doula visits, which last about three hours, have been well received by families, Sullivan said.

“A lot of families who don’t live close to other family members that can help, or they’re heading back to work, or are dealing with job loss related to COVID, find it really helpful,” she said. “To be able to offer this service now is even more valuable than it’s ever been.”

As moms gain more confidence and health, they pass the word along to other new mothers, which has increased demand for the service, Sullivan said.

“Through the task force, we have a strong range of resources for mental health that I feel comfortable referring to. If I have immediate concerns, I can reach out to Mary or Cindy,” she said. “We are good liaisons and usually within 24 hours we can make a referral.”

Beyond the hands-on benefits the new mother support groups and doula visits provide is the awareness they can bring to the issue of postpartum depression, Wilson said. Identification of postpartum depression goes a long way toward ultimately addressing the problem, she said.

“The more people understand how postpartum depression and perinatal complications present, the more aware everyone is around it and the less stigma there is around it, and the faster they will be able to get the support they need,” she said. “We’re building this awareness and we’re building capacity for people to have a place to go, for people to have the support they need – both prevention-wise and after the fact.”

Anyone interested in learning more about the Supporting and Healing for New Moms support group, the breastfeeding support group, or the in-home doula postpartum service can call Krista Sullivan at 508-289-1185 or call the Cape Cod Children’s Place at 508-240-3310.