Helping Moms with Postpartum Depression

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Emma* had a history of depression and anxiety, but it became even worse after she gave birth to her second child. She began having obsessive and disturbing thoughts of something terrible happening to her or her baby, and she struggled to bond with her children.

Emma was proactive about seeking help—she initially tried outpatient therapy and psychiatry for postpartum depression, but her anxiety continued to get worse. 

Unfortunately, Emma’s medical insurance didn’t cover more intensive services. But thanks to Swedish’s financial assistance program, she was able to sign up for the Swedish Center for Perinatal Bonding and Support Day Program five months after she gave birth. For the next 3 ½ weeks, she participated in cognitive behavioral therapy and psychiatry care, and learned coping and self-care skills. When she graduated from the program, Emma’s intrusive thoughts had nearly disappeared and she was emotionally connected to her children. As an added benefit, she’d made strong friendships with other mothers in the program going through similar experiences.

“Before the program, I was overwhelmed by my baby’s needs and his cries seemed to be personal attacks of my mothering ability,” says Emma. “Now I understand his needs and am better able to meet them. I know he loves me and I love him.”

1.3 million women diagnosed with postpartum depression each year

Emma isn’t alone. In fact, postpartum depression (PPD) is the most common complication of childbearing, with approximately 1.3 million women diagnosed each year. Without treatment, women are at increased risk for suicide and children are at increased risk for abuse and neglect, as well as other long-term risks, including mental health and substance abuse into adulthood.

“One in five women will experience depression or anxiety in pregnancy or postpartum, and there’s a lot of shame and stigma out there around it, which makes it hard for women to ask for help. Plus, it’s hard to find a therapist who has experience with these issues,” says Laurie Ganberg, LICSW, lead therapist for the Center for Perinatal Bonding and Support. “In severe cases, women become hospitalized but the separation from their baby causes even more stress. We realized there really wasn’t a great option for women to get specialized, intensive care in an outpatient setting where they could be near their baby.”

Through Swedish’s community health needs assessment, it was determined that there was a lack of resources available in the community to help moms suffering from PPD. Therefore, in the summer of 2016, Swedish opened the first center of its kind in the Pacific Northwest to help struggling mothers. The center’s Day Program is an intensive outpatient mental health treatment program for new and expecting moms experiencing anxiety, sleeplessness, uncontrollable worrying, emptiness, intrusive thoughts, and more. It is led by licensed reproductive psychiatrists and therapists who specialize in caring for new and expecting moms. Moms are encouraged to bring their infants to support bonding, infant attachment and breastfeeding.

The Day Program provides individual and group therapy; other therapy treatments ranging from interpersonal to art to cognitive behavioral; discussions of coping skills, communication, relationships, relaxation and mindfulness; support with mother-baby bonding; the opportunity to connect with other mothers experiencing similar issues; and medication management and evaluation, if needed. Participants attend the program six hours a day, four days a week for one to three weeks. 

Since opening, 70 women have completed the Day Program, with 90 percent reporting better attachment to their baby after receiving the help. Many of these women would not have been able to participate without the financial assistance from Swedish. In 2016, Swedish provided $68,000 for vulnerable mothers to receive free care and services through the Day Program; part of a total community benefit investment of more than $247 million last year.

*Patient has given Swedish permission to share her story, but the name has been changed to protect patient privacy.