Resources help new military moms gain resiliency against post-partum depression
NEw moms have a lot going on. Dramatic changes in daily schedules that cut into sleep, learning to meet the needs of a new baby, as well as body and hormonal changes, can wreak havoc with emotions after a baby is born. All of these factors can contribute to post-partum blues, commonly experienced by new mothers, where feelings of sadness and tears come unexpectedly.
“There is a normal emotional roller coaster within the first three to 10 days after a baby’s birth when many women will feel overwhelmed,” said Dori Rogut with the Defense Health Agency’s Clinical Support Division. “But for about 15 percent of new moms, those feelings continue. Symptoms can become more severe and develop into post-partum depression, when women report feelings of extreme sadness, insomnia, fatigue and difficulty thinking. If the feelings of being overwhelmed continue to the point that even talking to family or friends is just too much effort, that’s when a new mom should get help and support.”
The challenges of military family life can make the post-partum period especially difficult for new mothers. The Military Health System tries to keep new mothers from progressing into post-partum depression through enhanced support to new mothers and immediate mental health care to those who develop post-partum depression.
“For our beneficiaries, one of the biggest challenges is the lack of proximity of family,” said Theresa Hart, a nurse consultant and manager for Perinatal, Pediatrics and Special Medical Programs at DHA. “Do you have folks around who you can reach out to? Do you have a support network?”
A recent move to support mothers and families is the Department of Defense’s change of maternity leave for active-duty mothers to 12 weeks. Partners of new moms also get paternity leaves of 14 days. That puts another person at home to share the workload during that immediate post-partum period. Add it all up, and everyone gets extra time to adjust to new and expanding roles and responsibilities, especially for those who might not have family close by, before heading back to work. Hart also said it’s important to recognize hormonal changes and sleep deprivation, which can affect mood and can possibly make moms more vulnerable to post-partum depression.
“Every mom is going to have hormonal changes, but every mom is also going to react differently,” said Hart. “If moms have a history of depression, often this hormone change will bring the whole issue up again. New moms need to try to be aware of how they are feeling and what is going on within their bodies.”
Military health providers, including pediatricians, obstetricians and midwives, are trained to check in with new mothers about how they are doing when they come to the clinic for appointments for themselves or their baby. This is especially important during pediatric visits as most mothers are scheduled for a check-up by their obstetrician six weeks after delivery, whereas a new baby’s first appointment is often from two days to two weeks after birth.
“Our people in our pediatric clinics are doing post-partum depression screenings. This isn’t just a mother’s issue; it’s a whole family issue. We want to make sure a mother has what she needs in order to make sure the baby and the family have what they need,” said Hart.
Another good resource is the 24-hour/seven days a week Nurse Advice Line (1-800-TRICARE, option 1), helping any parent who feels at the end of their rope. Other resources specific to the Military Health System are hospital, clinic or installation family resource centers, chaplains, spouses and co-workers, all of great help. Hart wants to make sure no mom feels any kind of stigma for reaching out.
“Especially for military moms, they don’t want to be seen as weak. But that attitude can be a real detriment. We are building resilience in our mothers and families,” said Hart. “We want moms to be aware that if they aren’t feeling well, physically or emotionally, that’s going to impact their baby. They need to think about starting the baby’s life as strong as possible, and that means making sure the mom is as strong as possible.”