Traditionally, there is a lack of care for mothers in the United States during the most vulnerable weeks and months immediately after delivering their babies. Here’s how the tide is changing, and how to advocate for more help in the future.
Currently, in the U.S., mothers are encouraged to visit with their OB/GYN or pregnancy care provider 6-8 weeks post delivery. Sadly, this is a stark contrast to postpartum practices around the world, in which the new mother is supported and cared for in the days immediately after birth and for several weeks and months afterward.
Compared to the intense focus on women’s health prenatally, the postpartum care available to women in America is severely lacking, creating detrimental risks for the postpartum mother-baby dyad. Lack of postnatal care has created a void where many severe issues that impact both mothers and their families go undetected and under the radar, including maternal mental health issues, like postpartum depression and anxiety, eating disorders, and other physical, emotional and mental conditions.
Inadequate postpartum support can also contribute to breastfeeding difficulties and an overall increased risk of morbidity and mortality. The lack of maternal health care, particularly in the postpartum period, is alarming given that more than one half of pregnancy-related deaths occur after the birth of the infant.
Recently, the time for change was signaled.
“California just signed one of the world’s most comprehensive maternal mental health bill packages into law,” as Joy Burchard, the founder and Executive Director of 2020 Mom and Mom Congress, recently announced.
In a historic, unprecedented move for the lives of countless mothers and families in the United States, this sweeping new legislation has motioned that the time to support mothers is now. And by bringing maternal mental health to the forefront of healthcare through comprehensive policy change, it can create a momentous ripple effect during the vulnerable times of pregnancy and postpartum.
What does this mean for new mothers moving forward?
In the state of California, 3 new bills make up this new legislation in support of maternal mental health care, including:
AB 2193: Maternal Mental Health Screening and Support: Perinatal providers must provide screening for maternal depression at least once during pregnancy/postpartum. Private and public health plans and insurers are required to create maternal mental health programs.
AB 3032: Hospital Maternal Mental Health: Beginning in 2020, hospitals must provide maternal mental health training to all clinical staff who interact with pregnant/postpartum women. Women and families will be educated about maternal mental health disorders.
AB 1893: Maternal Mental Health Federal Funding: The State Department of Public Health will be required to apply for federal funding as part of the ‘Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act’.
With one in eight births in the United States occurring in the state of California, these new health care laws can help establish a new standard of care in support of the mental health of mothers across the country, while redefining the paradigm for addressing mental health disorders that arise during pregnancy and postpartum.
These recommendations are a welcomed and much-needed change for women, especially as California health law is often referenced as a model for other U.S. states. It sheds light on the greater issues at stake when it comes to maternal/child health. According to one study:
“The lack of policies substantially benefitting early life in the United States constitutes a grave social injustice: those who are already most disadvantaged in our society bear the greatest burden.”
Fundamentally changing our approach to maternal health care on all levels is necessary for bettering poor health outcomes, including maternal and infant morbidities and mortalities. The foundation of human health is programmed in early life, and with improved care during this critical period, benefits may include:
- Higher rates of breastfeeding
- Fewer infant deaths
- Fewer low birthweight babies
- Improved mental health
- Longer parental lifespan
- Increased long-term achievement for children
Despite this recent win, there will likely be some time before changes are implemented throughout the health care system.
If you are pregnant or newly postpartum, there are some important things to keep in mind as you navigate our current healthcare system:
Trust your intuition
If you ever feel like something is not right with you or your baby during pregnancy or postpartum, please reach out to a health care provider and seek professional advice. Just because your physician might recommend a 6-week check-up after delivery does not mean you have to wait until then to be seen. Many issues often arise before this routine appointment, but many mothers are often hesitant to ask for help before then. Trust your gut instinct and reach out for help immediately as needed!
Be your best advocate
It’s important for women to find their voices when it comes to their healthcare and bodies. If something doesn’t feel comfortable at your appointments, be sure to speak up for yourself and your baby. Just because our current healthcare system has recommended guidelines for certain procedures doesn’t mean that this is what is necessarily right for you.
Ask for help when you need it
Our current maternal health care system has significantly burdened mothers with more responsibility we can reasonably bear. Utilize the resources available for help and support, whether for yourself, your baby, or your family. Many professionals and organizations offer low-cost or free resources for breastfeeding support, postpartum mental health, and more. You don’t have to do this alone – find your village!
Create your own postpartum care plan
Creating a plan for postpartum is essential, and this is something that you can ideally start thinking about during pregnancy. Line up your professionals and have numbers and resources on hand and ready so you know who to reach out to should you find yourself struggling. Put your postpartum team together, including your family and friends, primary maternal care provider, infant care provider, and lactation support, to make the transition easier for you.
Ensuring adequate, timely, and efficient care for mothers postpartum is important to our society as a whole. When we are lifting up, honoring, and supporting mothers in the critical postpartum period, we are ensuring that we are giving new families everywhere the best start possible. Let’s continue to advocate for these much-needed changes on behalf of mothers everywhere.
The costs of not improving our current system are too high to ignore or remain stagnant.
Adapted from the original article.
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Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Board Certified Lactation Consultant, & mama of 5. With a virtual nutrition practice, Crystal helps overwhelmed mamas nurture a peaceful relationship with food & their bodies, end the battles at the dinner table and transform their kitchens to place of peace & joy. Learn more at Crystal Karges Nutrition.