Thwarting the Baby Blues

by Gretchen Johnson, MSN, RN-BC


Having a new baby should be a time of joy, happiness, and contentment. But for nearly 20% of new mothers, it is characterized by disabling anxiety, despair, hopelessness, depression and sadness. And for many women, these symptoms—collectively called postpartum depression and perinatal mood disorders (PMD)—are unexpected and lead to more guilt and shame. For one woman, Stacey Figg, these symptoms were so severe that treatment was necessary. And like many other women, Stacey found that treatment options were less than ideal. She learned that her options were to continue to suffer so she could stay with her baby or have someone else care for her baby so she could get well. And despite choosing to get treatment, she quickly found the treatment was not specific to her postpartum needs. “I already was feeling guilty about struggling as a new mom. I had a good life, a wonderful husband, and a beautiful baby. It was even more traumatic to be separated from her while receiving treatment.” Despite celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Alanis Morissette, and Brooke Shields bringing the issue of postpartum depression forward, women continue to be under diagnosed and under treated for this serious, sometimes life threatening condition. In fact, Science Daily reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death in the postpartum time period. Until recently, only one day program in the United States (Rhode Island) existed where women and infants could together get treatment for PMD. Margaret Howard, PhD, director of this program explains, “Ours is the culture where the image of a ‘glowing new mother’ is the height of womanhood. This makes the psychological impact of depression all the more searing and painful.”

Our community recognized the need to eliminate this stigma and provide better care for women like Stacey. Over a four year time period, Pine Rest—with the help of various community physicians, nurses, therapists, nurse midwives, agency representatives, and moms who have struggled with PMD—has worked towards opening a program where women receive treatment with their infants. Keeping mothers and babies together for treatment allows for bonding to be uninterrupted, promotes continuation in breastfeeding if applicable, and allows for shared learning from fellow participants struggling with the same issues.

In addition to caring for an infant, I had to fight to see the light
at the end of the tunnel and to find my ‘normal’ self again.

Since December 2012, the Pine Rest Mother and Baby Program has served over 50 women struggling with postpartum depression or some other mood disorder during pregnancy or after her child is born. One of only two Mother and Baby Partial Hospital (Day Treatment) programs in the United States, the Pine Rest program exists to offer state-of-the-art treatment for women who struggle with mental health issues during the perinatal time. The program operates Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and women come to treatment for an average of five to seven days. While in the program, women are able to receive an evaluation from a psychiatrist to see if medications are necessary, attend group therapy, meet individually with a social worker, and attend classes that focus on relationships, role transitions, skills building, anxiety, bonding with baby, medication education, and many more. Michael Fusillo, MD, a psychiatrist at Pine Rest shares, “The perinatal period is a vulnerable time requiring an adjustment to changes in body and mind that are not necessarily welcome or  perceived to be controllable.” He goes on to add that providing treatment in the group setting “allows women to understand that they are not alone in their suffering and to benefit from that knowledge.”

Besides the focus on maternal mental health issues, the other unique component of the program is the ability for babies to attend treatment with each mom. The on-site nursery allows women to opt to leave her baby with an attendant or bring the baby into any of the groups or classes. Women are able to be home in the evening to continue to participate in family life and be supported by loved ones.

While PMD is a serious and debilitating illness, the Pine Rest Mother and Baby Program exists to offer hope. We recognize that women deserve to feel better, they deserve to receive the best treatment for their illness, and they deserve to do that in a supportive environment free from stigma and shame. As Stacey Figg has learned first hand, “PMD is not what you expect to encounter when you give birth to a beautiful new baby. For me, along with motherhood came overwhelming feelings of anxiety, worthlessness, self doubt, depression and insomnia. These were some of the most desperate and challenging days of my life. In addition to caring for an infant, I had to fight to see the light at the end of the tunnel and to find my ‘normal’ self again. I am thrilled that Pine Rest now offers a specialized program to aide in the treatment of PMD so fewer mothers have to suffer.”



Gretchen Johnson, MSN, RN-BC is a board certified psychiatric nurse and is the manager of the Mother and Baby Program and the Adult Partial Hospital Program.