Addressing Maternal Mental Health in the Pediatric Medical Home

Despite the fact that 10 to 20 percent of the women who give birth each year in the United States experience mental health problems that impact their ability to nurture their children, health providers who have frequent contact with pregnant women and new mothers often do not realize that these women are suffering. Lack of recognition and attention to these issues can compromise maternal and child health, parent – child attachment, and developmental outcomes in children.

A number of maternal mental health disorders can occur during preconception, pregnancy, labor, delivery and parenting through the child’s first year. These disorders range from “baby blues” on one end of the spectrum to adjustment, major depressive, anxiety, panic, bipolar, obsessive compulsive, and posttraumatic stress disorders as well as psychosis.

There has been increasing recognition of the importance of maternal mental health and early childhood development on the public health policy agenda, and this publication highlights the work being done in Connecticut perinatal mental health policy advocacy. Key points include:

  • failure to identify mothers with mental health disorders and connect them to helpful interventions is a huge missed opportunity;
  • for mothers who have recently given birth, pediatric health care visits can be used to identify mothers who may be suffering from depression or other mental health disorders that could adversely affect their child’s safety and development;
  • the timing and frequency of well-child visits in the first year of life and the trusting pediatric provider-parent relationship create an opportunity to address maternal mental health concerns early; and
  • the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Mental Health and the Committee on the Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health have both promoted collaborative, co-located, and integrated models for mental health services within primary care medical homes.

Based on this information, and on work already done in Connecticut, this report makes a series of recommendations to further improve perinatal mental health policy, practice, and service delivery in Connecticut. The recommendations also address shortcomings in the availability of mental health services for mothers suffering from mental health problems.

Read the related report: Addressing Maternal Mental Health in the Pediatric Medical Home