“Not only does maternal depression look different for every mom, but the potential outcomes and interventions look different for every mother and every family,” Kaitlyn Doerge says.

Mom and babyOn the heels of Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, we’re reflecting on one of the most vital aspects of a child’s mental health: maternal well-being. Even though maternal depression is one of the most common complications created by pregnancy, it often goes undetected or untreated.

Maternal depression is more than a case of the “baby blues,” or the period of mood fluctuations following childbirth that lasts two weeks on average. Spanning the scope of perinatal and post-partum depression, maternal depression not only tends to last much longer, but also poses more enduring and even life-threatening risks to the collective well-being of a mother and her child.

Adriana Kohler of Texans Care for Children and Kaitlyn Doerge of Texas Pediatric Society (a former Hogg Foundation Policy Fellow) join us for an episode of our Into the Fold podcast to explore recent legislation, best practices, and resources that help Texas mothers care for themselves and their children.

Connecting Maternal Health and Child Health 

The American Psychological Association estimates that one out of seven women experience maternal depression. As many as half of parenting teens and moms with low incomes—two disproportionately affected groups—report depressive symptoms. “A mom might face extreme depression as she tries to settle into a feeding routine and help her baby grow and play,” Kohler says. “She may struggle to engage or feel disconnected from the child.”

Disruption of early bonding and other types of maternal-child interaction can lead to delays in language-learning and cognitive development in infants and young children. Later in life, they have a higher chance of experiencing depression themselves. That’s why early identification is so essential.

“Maternal depression is so common, and it doesn’t look the same for every mom,” Doerge says. “Not only does maternal depression look different for every mom, but the potential outcomes and interventions look different for every mother and every family.”

Resources Within and Beyond Pediatric Settings

Despite the prevalence of maternal depression and its impact on child well-being, many mothers might not think to seek out screening and treatment. Even when infant check-ups put them in regular contact with pediatric healthcare providers, their own lack of insurance—or an inclination to place the child’s health above their own—stands in the way of early identification and supports.

“The good news is that there’s steps that Texas leaders can take to address this issue,” Kohler says. During the 85th Texas Legislature, for example, she worked with Doerge to successfully pass House Bill 2466, which allows moms taking their infants on their initial pediatric visits to bill maternal depression screenings as infant care.

While promising pieces of federal legislation like the Family First Prevention Services Act will take a few years to trickle down to the state level, local initiatives are pioneering evidence-based strategies for preventing and treating maternal depression in a community context. Across the state, Texas Home Visiting programs like Nurse-Family Partnership services, which pair parents with trained experts or “home visitors” living in their area, have acquired a “demonstrated track record,” Kohler says, of improving maternal and child health.

“We know that answers don’t just lie within the pediatric community,” Doerge says, “so many other organizations are coming into the fold to focus on early childhood health in many other areas.”

Every mother going through maternal depression, no matter how accustomed she is to relying on her own resilience and resourcefulness to care for herself and her child, deserves to have the help and resources she needs. “We hope this can be a reality for more Texas moms and families,” Kohler says.




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