It is estimated that as many as 15-20% of pregnant and postpartum women experience a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder. PMAD’s can be caused by a multitude of factors and treated in a number of ways. A support group can help new parents bond with others who have gone, or are currently going through, similar struggles.

For five years, Beth Moorhouse Sperry has facilitated a postpartum support group at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital. As a clinical social worker certified in perinatal mental health, she’s helped guide conversations between new moms to help them find comfort and connection with their peers.

As with everything, COVID-19 brought a wave of change to the challenges and stresses of being a new parent. It also changed the way the group meets. Weekly sessions now take place virtually via Microsoft Teams. On average, four to six moms join each week. At times, participants have also included male and female nursing students who are there to observe and learn.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in parent stress and anxiety related to COVID-19,” Moorhouse Sperry said. “Often it’s been about mom going alone to her appointments and not having her partner with her, which can impact the bonding experience for both.”

For parents who received a diagnosis while their baby was still in utero, receiving diagnosis information about their baby and then relaying that to their partner only compounded the stressful situation.

“Moms felt overwhelmed, trying to absorb as much as they could, and then had to go home to their partner and relay the information secondhand,” Moorhouse Sperry said.

Increasing awareness about treating perinatal mood disorders is a passion point for Moorhouse Sperry. When new moms are able to share openly about where they are struggling, it helps take a burden off of them and encourages acceptance.

“It helps them know that A, they’re not alone and this is a common issue, and B, to know they’re not at fault,” she said. “This not only helps moms now, but in the future. An untreated mood disorder can have effects for years.”

Roughly 80% of women experience the “baby blues” after childbirth, which can last for up to two weeks. Postpartum depression, however, is more pervasive and long-lasting. There’s often a misconception that PPD is brought on only by hormonal changes, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle.

“Biology and hormones definitely play a factor, but there are also situational stressors,” Moorhouse Sperry said. “If mom had a traumatic birth experience, or baby has a medical complication or mom is struggling to breast feed. External stressors such as a move, financial changes or changes to their support system – these are some of the factors that can contribute to a maternal mood disorder.”

No matter the reason, Moorhouse Sperry wants women to know there are a lot of options out there. The support group is one that can help women voice their concerns and find additional options for help, if needed.

For more information about Northwestern Medicine’s offerings in perinatal care, visit Resources for New Mothers | Northwestern Medicine.

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