News release: MDH research sheds new light on mental health challenges facing new mothers

News Release
May 7, 2015

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MDH research sheds new light on mental health challenges facing new mothers

Many Minnesota moms go without treatment for depression, anxiety even after being diagnosed

Postpartum depression is a struggle for many mothers, and new Minnesota research shows the difficulties after childbirth can include anxiety as well. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is highlighting this new finding during May, which Governor Mark Dayton has declared Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month.

The latest research indicates anxiety is a significant challenge for women who have recently delivered a baby, and not just in the weeks following delivery. Symptoms for anxiety and depression can emerge months after birth. Up to 80 percent of women may feel the blues after a birth, but often it lifts after a week or two. For some women, however, the depression or anxiety may linger or deepen. This can make it hard for them to care for themselves or their baby. Postpartum depression and anxiety affect at least 15 percent of women in Minnesota and close to 30 percent within low-income communities, according to MDH. Left untreated, maternal depression and anxiety can rob a baby of the critical interactions and nurturing from mom that are necessary to stimulate an infant’s brain development. Research shows that this lack of stimulation can result in developmental delays, since a baby’s early interaction with mom greatly impact brain growth and the development of neural pathways.

“Too many moms are struggling with these challenges alone,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger. “When our screening can identify a mom who is struggling, we can often find a treatment that can help ease her individual suffering, and improve outcomes for her baby and her whole family.” As part of the month, Commissioner Ehlinger has taken the Make It Ok Pledge. Visit the website to learn what to say to someone who is struggling with mental health issues.

Evidence shows that the depression and anxiety of new moms often goes unidentified and untreated. In Minnesota even after being diagnosed with postpartum depression or anxiety, about half of moms using public health programs do not receive follow-up care, according to MDH analysis of 2012 data. A recent MDH survey of 54 moms and 91 organizations found barriers to care include transportation, treatment wait times, lack of childcare and difficulty finding support for postpartum depression and anxiety. The same group of moms said useful coping strategies included support from a partner, friends, family, therapy, medications, exercise, moms groups, family home visiting, lactation consultations, phone calls, and educational materials.

MDH has several projects focused on maternal mental health, including a Community Innovation Lab, training and support for doctors to screen moms during well child checks, and screening during Family Home Visiting. Other organizations in Minnesota are also developing strong advocacy and support systems, including the Hennepin County Medical Center Mother Baby Program and support line, Postpartum Support Minnesota and a growth of new mom-centered classes and spaces that support moms.
Common signs and symptoms anxiety or depression include:

  • Sadness and frequent crying.
  • Guilt over not enjoying time with your infant.
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood.
  • Frequent worry about seemingly little things.
  • Inability to make decisions.

Maternal Mental Health Month Proclamation (PDF: 1MB/1 page)


Media inquiries:

Scott Smith
MDH Communications