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Yale New Haven Hospital Expands Maternal Wellness Program

Perinatal depression is the most common complication of childbearing. Yale New Haven Hospital’s Maternal Wellness Program, which offers evaluation, ongoing individual psychotherapy, screening, psychoeducation, couples therapy and collaboration with other providers, was established in 2020 to support new moms who were particularly hard hit by the pandemic’s ongoing mental health crisis. Recently, the program increased the availability for patient care and provider collaboration by onboarding a new social worker and adding more office space.

“Many people know they are struggling, but the barriers including stigma and lack of access can make it feel impossible to get help,” said Erika Cuffy, licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) who has been with the program since its inception. “We are trying to lower some of those barriers and say to moms you are going through a treatable experience that others have gone through.”

While many moms experience some mild mood changes during or after the birth of a child, 15-20 percent of women experience more significant symptoms of depression or anxiety. Symptoms can appear any time during the pregnancy and the first year after childbirth.

Tina Lopez, 32, from Trumbull CT was 23 weeks and 6 days pregnant when she went into preterm labor with her son. Lucas passed away in Tina’s arms two days later. “It’s the kind of thing where there is no roadmap for how to move on,” said Tina. When Tina got home she felt an intense despair.

The next week, Tina had therapy with the Maternal Wellness Program. Her sessions began by validating her feelings. “What happened to me wasn’t fair and I needed to speak with someone who I could share that with without holding back.”

Tina’s participation in the Program allowed her space to grieve, gave her support to heal, and the opportunity to thrive. Tina, who is an office manager at a busy home improvement company, became a top fundraiser for an organization that helps families facing pregnancy and infant loss.

“I often hear from patients that they feel they are not good mothers because they are experiencing anxiety and/or depression when this should be a joyous time,” said Maria Raffia, LCSW. “These moms are going through something that many others experience and don’t often discuss. Our goal when working with patients is to normalize these feelings, teach coping skills and help moms feel better.”

Along with ongoing therapy, Tina journals and writes letters to her son. She recently wrote to him that she is expecting a second child. “Therapy helped me connect with others going through a similar situation, it allowed me to think about the future,” said Tina. “Being pregnant again of course brings up negative thoughts that I need to reframe. By tapping into my creative side, finding ways to honor Lucas and building a support network, I am protecting myself.”

While conversations about mental health have finally entered the mainstream, maternal health is still often overlooked. Suicidal thoughts and self-harm among pregnant and postpartum individuals have increased over the years.

“Expanding our program has given us the opportunity to reach more moms to provide support and treatment. It also allows us to educate and offer resources to community providers,” said Erika.

The Maternal Wellness Program accepts perinatal/postpartum woman from CT who are experiencing pregnancy related mental health symptoms. People can self-refer by calling 203-688-9491 or a referral can be made by their obstetrician, pediatrician or doula.