Ensuring mom’s safety: Why maternal mental health matters

Dr. Teresa Wagner, HSC School of Health Professions Assistant ProfessorThe U.S. has the highest maternal death rate among the world’s developed nations — a rate that has continued to rise while remaining stable or falling in other developed countries.

SaferCare Texas’ Interim Director, Dr. Teresa Wagner, is helping educate the community on the importance of maternal mental health.

Wagner has developed a maternal mortality curriculum to help educate maternal health educators on mental health issues, such as postpartum depression and general health issues mothers may face. The What About Mom? app she developed helps mothers understand their postpartum symptoms and take action that could save their own lives.

“Helping new moms understand potential postpartum symptoms of which they might not be aware empowers them to make informed decisions that could mean the difference between life and death,” Wagner said. “The What About Mom? app is a health literacy patient safety tool that can help reduce preventable harm.”

According to the American Hospital Association, maternal mental health conditions, such as anxiety, perinatal and postpartum depression and birth-related PTSD, are the most common complications of pregnancy and childbirth, affecting one in five women. Among those affected, 75% go untreated.

While women of color are more likely to experience these mental health conditions, they also are less likely to seek help.

How providers can help with maternal mental health

Health care professionals play a critical role in eliminating preventable maternal mortality.

The CDC provides several ways healthcare professionals can help engage patients as partners in their own care which starts with listening and taking concerns seriously when it comes to maternal outcomes:

  1. Ask questions to better understand your patient and the things that may be affecting their lives.
  2. Address any concerns your patients may have.
  3. Help patients manage chronic conditions or conditions that may arise during pregnancy like hypertension, diabetes, or depression.
  4. Recognize unconscious bias in yourself and in your office.
  5. Provide all patients with respectful care.
  6. Help your patients, and those accompanying them, understand the urgent maternal warning signs and when to seek medical attention right away.

“Recent research reveals that our country continues to be plagued by health disparities based on structural inequities such as social determinants of health that can impact maternal outcomes,” Wagner said. “It’s up to us as health care providers to help bridge that gap.”

Learn more by clicking here: Maternal Mortality Curriculum and the What About Mom? App

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