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What Expectant Moms Need to know about Mental Health During and After Pregnancy

Mental health is something that affects hundreds of thousands, up to millions, of women everywhere. According to MGH Center For Women's Health, recent studies suggest that up to 20% of women suffer from mood or anxiety disorders during pregnancy.

Particularly vulnerable are those women with histories of psychiatric illness who discontinue psychotropic medications during pregnancy. In one study that prospectively followed a group of women with histories of major depression across pregnancy, the 82 women who maintained antidepressant treatment throughout pregnancy, 21 (26%) relapsed compared with 44 (68%) of the 65 women who discontinued medication. This study estimated that women who discontinued medication were 5 times as likely to relapse as compared to women who maintained treatment.

Decisions regarding the commencement of or maintenance of treatment during pregnancy must reflect an understanding of the risks associated with fetal exposure to a particular medicine. It must also take into consideration the risks associated with untreated psychiatric illness in the mother. Psychiatric illness in the mother is not an unheard-of event and may cause significant morbidity for both the mother and her child; thus, discontinuing or withholding medication during pregnancy is not always the safest option.

Depression and anxiety during pregnancy have been associated with a variety of adverse pregnancy outcomes. Women who suffer from psychiatric illness during pregnancy are less likely to receive adequate prenatal care and are more likely to use alcohol, tobacco, and other substances known to adversely affect pregnancy outcomes.

More resources need to be available to moms at any time of their pregnancy to be able to alleviate the harmful or dangerous symptoms associated with these illnesses. In addition, moms who don't experience these more intense symptoms need to have access to mental health treatment and services to ease their mind and body during their pregnancy. During pregnancy, hormones can highly affect women in their everyday lives and leave them to develop bad habits or even illnesses. We need to push for more mental health support for mothers along their journey in their pregnancy.

Several studies have described low birth weight and fetal growth reduction in children born to depressed mothers. Pregnancy complications related to maternal depression and anxiety in late pregnancy have also been described, including an increased risk for developing pre-eclampsia, operative delivery, and infant admission to a special care nursery for a variety of conditions including respiratory distress, hypoglycemia, and prematurity. This data underscores the need to perform a thorough risk/benefit analysis of pregnant women with psychiatric illness, including evaluating the impact of untreated illness on the baby and the mother, as well as the risks of using medication during pregnancy.

Our work at the Virginia Women and Family Support Center is being the change, by providing mental health support to all who are enrolled in our program.

Our community, staff, and volunteers are trained and stand ready to deliver the services and support necessary to help women change the trajectory of their lives. In addition to providing a safe home for mothers to bring their children and newborns to after giving birth, we understand that families thrive when they have stable housing. Additional support and services including mental health and trauma recovery care are available to our residents.  We prioritize raising awareness of the impact of trauma on maternal and mental health. These are paramount to the families in our program. We also offer counseling services through partnerships to help our residents heal emotionally and mentally.

Our mothers are determined to break cycles of homelessness, trauma, and to grow as mothers for their babies' future. They're learning to make positive, healthy choices every day. Each success story of our mothers is a testament to the transformative impact of the Virginia Women and Family Support Center. These women, once facing uncertainty and homelessness, now stand as empowered individuals, breaking free from cycles of adversity. Their journeys showcase the tangible outcomes of our long-term approach, fostering independence, resilience, and hope. These stories inspire us to continue our mission of making a lasting difference in the lives of pregnant women and their families

We're excited about our growing plans and the future as we work toward ending homelessness and providing mothers the support they need in Prince William County and beyond.  

Learn more about our Cycle Breakers program and help us continue to change the lives of women and families forever.

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