Women's health in America lags woefully behind other Western nations.  And postpartum depression (often referred to as PMAD; Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder) is a particularly bleak spot.  The condition has been chronically overlooked for decades, which explains why 80% of cases go untreated, though 1 in 7 women suffer. Thanks to advocacy efforts and policy updates that encourage more routine screenings, things are starting to move in the right direction. And one startup, The Motherhood Center of New York, is leading the charge.

The Center, based in Manhattan, offers a spectrum of support to help new mothers cope with the tumultuous changes and unique triggers that motherhood brings. The idea was inspired when co-founder, Billy Ingram, observed the treatment options available to perinatal women in countries like Australia, New Zealand and Western Europe. In these countries, facilities like specialized perinatal inpatient units (where mothers can brings their babies), Mother-Baby Units or intensive day programs abound. And as a result, conversations about what happens when a woman doesn't naturally flourish in her new role as a mother, happen with greater frequency and less shame. Ingram sites the biggest issue facing new mothers as lack of awareness of PMAD's. Ingram says, "We're in a situation where providers don't screen effectively, in part because they don't know where to send patients. There's a general lack of awareness of the condition and how treatable it is."  And the toll, both emotionally and financially is huge. PMAD's cost society a staggering $20 billion each year; due to lost productivity, extended maternity leave, poor mother and infant development and even suicide and infanticide.

The Motherhood Center of New York has a range of services, including an intensive partial-hospitalization Day-Program. The innovative program was designed by co-founder Catherine Birndorf, a reproductive psychiatrist who was alarmed by the lack of scholarly focus on perinatal disorders; when her experience repeatedly revealed just how complex and prevalent the problem was.  This day-program (designed in conjunction with Margaret Howard at the Women and Infants Hospital in Rhode Island) consists of group classes, individual therapy sessions, infant and mother bonding classes, sessions with pediatricians and midwives and even classes like meditation and art therapy. And the results are impressive. Mothers come to the Day Program with an average Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) of 21 and leave with an EPDS of less than 8. This program is the first of its kind as it isn't offered in, or attached to, a hospital; and is therefore more easily accessible to those in need.

Accessibility is critical in helping to reach the company's mission of caring for as many women as possible, no matter their socio-economic background. Much of the founders' time is spent working with insurers to make sure this level of care is covered, in as many cases as possible. On top of that, The Motherhood Center of New York is also developing a non-profit arm to help treat a greater Medicaid population. Currently around 10% of patients come through Medicaid, though the company plans to increase that number in the coming years.  

In another innovation designed to make life easier for new mothers, the center is available for drop-in support groups, for women who may not necessarily be struggling with PMAD's but need some extra support.  It also has a nursery on-site so mothers can attend therapy sessions with ease. Forking out money for childcare, on top of treatment, can be a prohibitive expense for many.  The Motherhood Center of New York has plans to amplify their impact across the country, by opening more centers in 2018.  Over time, this novel and effective approach to perinatal care is likely to become the new standard.  As a result, the guilt and shame associated with the condition will be replaced with empathy, and a solid understanding of what optimal care looks like.

Published on: Nov 27, 2017
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