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Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Survey seeks new moms' postpartum experiences

Posted October 18, 2015
Updated October 19, 2015

Raising a newborn isn't all sunshine and rainbows. The constant feeding, changing and caring for a teeny little one is hard work for anybody. And it only gets worse when new moms suffer from postpartum mood disorders, which can cause anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

Betty-Shannon Prevatt, a Cary mom of two, has been working with new moms in the Triangle for more than a decade. After working as a psychologist, she's now back at school, pursuing a Ph.D. at N.C. State University. There, she's continuing her study of postpartum mood disorders and hopes to eventually improve prevention and intervention programs in the region.

As part of her research, Prevatt has a survey that she'd love for Triangle moms, who are age 18 or over and have delivered a baby since Jan. 1, 2012, to complete. Postpartum Adjustment: Examining Coping, Social Support and Access to Care takes a look at coping, social support and access to care following the birth of a child. She hopes it will provide new information about the postpartum experience, but also uncover the needs and resources unique to women in the Triangle.

To learn more about the survey and Prevatt's studies and work, I checked in with her by email. Here's our conversation about this important topic.

Go Ask Mom: You've been working as a clinical psychologist with a focus on postpartum mood disorders. Have you always been interested in postpartum mood disorders and why? Or was there a shift in your focus after a time?

Betty-Shannon Prevatt: I have always had an interest in women’s issues. In my undergraduate studies I volunteered with Interact and focused more on sexual assault. Early in my professional career, I was also getting married and starting a family. I began to notice that the women around me were sharing their struggles related to reproductive health – infertility, postpartum, and adjusting to motherhood. After I had my second son, I left a wonderful job at the Counseling Center and Disability Services at Meredith College to start a private practice. I wanted to specialize in reproductive mental health and I was fortunate to be able to share space with a gynecologist and later with MidCarolina OBGYN. In 2007, I began volunteering with Moms Supporting Moms, the free peer-support group for postpartum mood disorders and I’ve continued to be passionate about helping women and their families after the birth of a child.

GAM: You returned to graduate school last year. What's your new course of study and what do you hope to learn?

B-SP: I learned pretty quickly in my private practice there just aren’t enough resources for everyone to have their own therapist. If we’re really going to make a meaningful change, it’s going to have to be at a broader, community level. Individual interventions can’t be the only solution. So, I shifted away from a clinical program and instead enrolled in the Applied Social and Community Psychology graduate program at North Carolina State. The curriculum has allowed me to focus on factors beyond individual characteristics that impact health. The program provides a strong statistical and research methods foundation to prepare students to analyze and develop real-world interventions. It is the perfect program for someone like myself who wants to understand health issues at a community level and develop large scale interventions that could possibly translate into policy changes. Ultimately, I hope to be able to teach at the university level while continuing my research on reproductive mental health.

GAM: Tell us about the survey?

B-SP: My current research examines how women in the Triangle adjust to motherhood. We know that there are many factors that contribute to a positive experience as well as factors that can make the transition to motherhood more difficult. I am hoping to understand more about the protective factors as well as the challenges women face so that we can capitalize on those positive aspects. I’m asking women who have delivered a baby (or babies) since January 2012 about their postpartum adjustment, including their coping, social support, and access to care. Specifically, I am interested in social support network, coping, access to medical and emotional care providers, relationship violence, substance use, and emotional wellness following the birth of a baby. The survey is accessible from a computer or smart-device and is completely anonymous. Women who are interested can be entered in a raffle to win one of 10 $25 Amazon gift cards.

GAM: Postpartum mood disorders can be so treatable, but so many women go undiagnosed. Why do you think that is?

B-SP: Postpartum mood disorders are the most common complication of pregnancy and childbirth but so many women don’t receive treatment. One research study called Postpartum Mood Disorders the “most underdiagnosed obstetric complication in America” (Earls, 2010). Unlike screening for gestational diabetes, there just isn’t universal screening for mental health symptoms in pregnancy and following delivery. And unfortunately, even when women are identified, barriers to treatment are abundant and can be divided into three categories – structural barriers (insurance, ability to pay, transportation, inadequate childcare), knowledge barriers (identifying services, unsure of best treatment option), and attitudinal barriers (low motivation for treatment, hopelessness about treatment working). My hope is that we can learn what barriers are most common for women in the Triangle and build upon the protective factors women identify to reduce the impact of the challenges women face.

GAM: As moms, parents, friends and family, what can we do to help new moms? What questions can we ask to see how they really are doing? How can we encourage them?

B-SP: First and foremost, we can give moms permission to be real about their experiences. Saying “I know it can be tough caring for a baby, how are things really going?” could give a new mom the opening they need to be honest about the tough moments. Caring for a baby isn’t easy and it definitely doesn’t look like the Johnson & Johnson’s commercials we see on TV. So many times I hear women say that they feel guilty or embarrassed to share that they are struggling and then they’re so relieved to learn that they aren’t alone. The more we can normalize the struggle, the easier it will be for moms to ask for help.

Another way to help families with a new baby is to provide something tangible – bring over a meal, offer to watch the baby, do a load of laundry, or wash the dishes. Don’t wait to be asked, just offer or in the case of the meal, just bring it over.

GAM: Tell us about your work with Moms Supporting Moms. How has that group helped women in the community?

B-SP: Moms Supporting Moms is an amazing group that was started as a grass-roots effort by a mom and her therapist who recognized the need for peer-support in the Triangle. Now almost 20 years later, the group still meets every week and is open to any mom who is struggling after delivering a baby. Moms Supporting Moms is the signature program of Postpartum Education and Support, a nonprofit organization. What’s so amazing about the organization is the involvement of its volunteers. Volunteers serve as group leaders, return calls from the warm-line, and provide trainings in the community. Hundreds of families across the Triangle have been helped by Postpartum Education and Support and Moms Supporting Moms.

I started volunteering as a medical advisor in 2007. After a few years, I joined the Board of Directors of Postpartum Education and Support and began assisting with some of the educational outreach programs offered in the community. In the past few years, I’ve stepped back to make sure I had a good balance of family time and work. Most recently, I’ve been working with them to complete a program review so that we can determine how the participants of Moms Supporting Moms have perceived the group. My current study will supplement the study I’m doing with former Moms Supporting Moms group members.

Go Ask Mom features local moms every Monday. If you are a new mom and struggling or if you know a new mom who is struggling, please contact your doctor or get in touch with Moms Supporting Moms. There is help out there!

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