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Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies

Empowering Families with Essentials: HMHB’s Safe Sleep and Safe Car Seat Initiatives

By Caregiving, Community, Community Support, Parenting, Safety

Ensuring the safety and well-being of our little ones is paramount. However, for some families, accessing essential items like safe sleep spaces and car seats can be a challenge. That’s where Health Mothers Healthy Babies (HMHB) steps in with the Essentials program, providing pack-and-plays and car seats to families in need across Montana through our Safe Sleep for Baby and Safe Seat for Baby programs.

Foundation of Essentials

Image of a happy family with a baby in a car seat, showcasing the importance of safe travel for infants.From its inception, Essentials has been an integral part of HMHB’s mission to support mothers and babies aged zero to three. Recognizing the critical importance of safe sleep and secure travel for infants and toddlers, the program was designed to bridge the gap for families facing financial or logistical barriers.

Impact

A glance at the numbers reveals the program’s growth and impact. In 2024, less than half-way through the year, we are already on pace to surpass our crib and car seat distribution from 2023 and have a broad reach across Montana counties and Reservations. Since its inception, the program has distributed thousands of pack-and-plays and car seats to Montana families.

Year Counties Served Reservations Served Car Seats

 

Cribs
2024 (through May 1) 22 4 141 120
2023 28 6 244 209
Success Stories

The heart of Essentials lies in the stories of families it has helped. Through testimonials like April’s, who found solace in a pack-n-play for her newborn in a small trailer, or Martha’s, a homeless mother provided with a pack-and-play, this program makes tangible differences in people’s lives. From fleeing domestic violence to unexpected births, the Essentials offerings can be accessed during critical moments, offering safety and support.

Building Trust Through Partnerships

Image of a happy baby, safely in a pack n play.To ensure car seats and pack and plays are safely set up, providers (such as doctors, nurses, Health Departments, home visitors, etc.) must order Essentials items for the families they serve.  Thus, Essentials not only provides tangible products to families, but also fosters trust and relationships with direct service providers. By equipping partners with resources, HMHB empowers them to support parents comprehensively, from access to guidance on safe sleep practices, laying the foundation for future engagements.

Continuing the Mission

As HMHB continues to expand its reach and impact through Essentials, the commitment to ensuring every Montana family has access to safe sleep spaces and car seats remains unwavering. Through collaboration with partner organizations and the dedication of its team, Essentials continues to be a beacon of hope for families in need.  If you would like to help further the reach of this important program, please consider making a donation.

Donate Now to Provide Essentials to Montana Babies

Our community, my peers (older and younger) do not feel safe sharing it.

April Charlo

Having a baby in 2020 helped me find yoga again in small ways.

Anna Bradley

Our Love for 406 Families

By Parenting

When families are looking for supports, the best advice often comes from the people who’ve been there — the parents in their community who have raised a child through the early years and have done the hard work of finding a pediatrician, enrolling in child care, and planning fun weekend activities. That’s why our team was so excited to connect with the team at 406 Families, a rockstar group of moms in the Missoula Valley who created a platform for families to find events, activities, and resources.

They work hard to create guides that address needs that families may have, including Education, Indoor & Drop-In Activities, Classes & Sports, and even Birthday Parties! The rest of their website includes articles written by the team and other moms about their own experiences, including the exploration of our beautiful state.

We met with Laci Rathburn, one of the founders of 406 Families, and she explained what makes the website so popular. The posts that their readers love are based on the personal experience and opinions of the parent who’s had to make these decisions. Sometimes, moms just want to know “who’s your favorite?” 406 Families is taking that on, but they are always looking for ways to diversify their voices — they want to represent even more caregivers! If you’re a Missoula parent and interested in sharing content, reach out to them at 406families@gmail.com.

You may think, how does this differ from LIFTS, the online resource guide that Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies created for parents across Montana? Our goal is to share with parents of kiddos aged zero to three a list of all services in their area, but we don’t always have firsthand knowledge of what it means to work with that provider or attend that event. We hope that localized information like what 406 Families created happens in even more communities in our state. If you have an amazing resource specific to your community like this, please let us know!

Reading Recommendations from PMHC 2021

By Uncategorized

Attendees at the virtual Perinatal Mental Health Conference 2021 were energized by the topics shared and took to the chatbox, sharing articles, books, and more. The Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies teams took those recommendations and created this list for you to save and share for your own personal and professional development. These links are organized alphabetically by type of source.

Books

Journal Articles

The following articles present alternative theories applicable within perinatal psychology that deliberately consider the experience of those receiving care, shared in Anna King’s presentation “Decolonization of the Mental Healthcare System.”

The group of articles below was shared after Dr. Linda Mayes and Dr. Helena Rutherford’s presentation about the “Neurodevelopment of Parenthood.”

This selection of articles provides information about the use of nutraceuticals in pregnancy.

Our PMHC 2021 attendees shared even more than what you see in this list, so stay tuned for more blog posts of recommended resources!

My body doesn't feel up to that. I'll let you know once I feel recovered.

Emily Clewis

LIFTS Launch Party

By Uncategorized

It was an incredibly creative and busy summer at Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies. Thanks to partners around the state, we took the LIFTS project to the next level with an annual publication and online resource guide. And we were lucky enough to share this work with those collaborators during our “LIFTS Launch Party”! Contributors to the magazine read their pieces, as we hope to lift up the stories of mothers and caregivers around Montana. We shared the “Look Closer Campaign,” working to break the stigma of helping mothers in recovery. And then we shared a demo of the LIFTS Online Guide in action, showing how the website can be used by parents around the state.

If you weren’t able to join us, or want to share the good news with others, watch the recording of our meeting below:

Our Stories Are Our Healing

By Uncategorized

April Charlo grew up on the Flathead Reservation in western Montana, a postcard-perfect landscape of glacial mountains and expansive valleys. When she got pregnant at 38, she thought she’d have a birth rife with traditional elements—nature, a teepee, and songs. Like so many things in life though, birth can’t be planned, and April’s early years of motherhood did not go as she expected either. 

“The second I got pregnant with Chief I was super anxious because I have a friend that lost a baby at 5 months and I didn’t know what I would do mental health-wise if I was to miscarry and have to tell everyone. These stigmas were really ingrained in me early on, that the world doesn’t need to know how I feel around a miscarriage and mental health. I didn’t want to tell anyone [I was pregnant] till I got past the 5-month mark because I didn’t want people to have to feel sorry for me if something went wrong,“ says April. 

When her son Chief was born, she didn’t have the experience she thought she would have. Since she was a teenager, April dreamed of having a baby of her own and was convinced she would be the best parent she could be. It turned out it wasn’t that simple.

“All my friends disappeared. I couldn’t go anywhere. I would put him in his car seat and he would scream. It was just such, such an anxious time. I would go into fight or flight, definitely a dysregulated, hyperarousal state where I would just shut down if I had to go to a store or anything. It was really intense,” says April.

She didn’t realize she was experiencing postpartum depression—a condition affecting up to 20 percent of women in the first weeks after giving birth that is classified as a serious mental health issue. 

“Postpartum depression was completely hidden in my community. At thirteen I went from playing with dolls to not being able to wait to have my own baby. In the [25] years between then and when I had Chief, I thought there was no way that was going to happen to me. I wanted this baby more than anything. More than anyone else who ever wanted their baby,” said April, choked with tears. 

Postpartum depression manifests uniquely in every woman, but common symptoms include depressed mood or mood swings, excessive crying, difficulty bonding with your baby, withdrawing from family and friends, change in appetite, changes in sleep, overwhelming fatigue, reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy, intense irritability or anger, hopelessness, feelings of shame or guilt, diminished ability to think clearly, and thoughts of harming yourself or your baby. 

For most women in America, and Native American communities in particular , postpartum depression comes along with a whole lot of stigma. 

“It’s very hidden because it’s very embarrassing. In any culture, how this affects anyone of any color or status—it’s the same. It’s the same fear of being judged or ostracized. It’s the same fear of sharing the intrusive thoughts with anyone beyond yourself. What will that mean? Are they going to take my kids if I share these intrusive thoughts? Postpartum depression doesn’t discriminate,” says April. 

Unlike the “baby blues,” which typically clear up on their own after a few days, postpartum depression can last for anywhere from a few months to several years.

 “I didn’t even know that it was postpartum depression,” says April through tears. “I thought I had some unique condition. It never occurred to me that it was postpartum depression. My brain chemistry had me so locked in tunnel vision of just getting through the day. Maybe tomorrow I’ll kill myself. If I can’t make it through tomorrow, I’ll kill myself and my son. It still shakes me to my core.”

April attributes much of her community’s silent struggle with postpartum depression to the lack of traditional knowledge being handed down—a paradigm that has been pervasive since the colonization of the Americas when boarding schools forced Native children out of their homelands and disrupted their chain of cultural heritage. 

Despite past struggles, the dialogue around Native American prenatal and postpartum care is gaining traction. With more gatherings and conversations happening in public forums than ever before, Native women are finally finding their voices on the issue. 

“Once I told my story it was like story after story after story of ‘I had that.’ It tells me that our community, my peers (older and younger) do not feel safe sharing it. The dialogue has slowly started on social media which is great to see,” says April. 

Postpartum depression is common and while sharing your story can be hard, reaching out for help is important. Unintentional overdose and suicide are the top causes of death in mothers in the first year postpartum and are completely preventable with the proper help. 

Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies seeks to support all moms of any ethnicity in their journey to finding their way through postpartum mood disorders.

To learn more about April’s story of postpartum depression and ways that you can seek help if you find yourself experiencing symptoms, watch the video above.

Thousands of Montanans will see increased WIC benefits for produce

By Uncategorized

A panel of lawmakers and state officials on Thursday held an “emergency” meeting to authorize a temporary expansion of federal benefits to help low-income women and their families purchase additional fruit and vegetables, just in time for a June deadline that had slipped beyond the notice of the Legislature as it works to spend a billion-plus dollars in COVID-19 aid from the U.S. government.

Under the expanded program, Montanans who receive Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children — or WIC — benefits will see an increase in their payments for produce up to $35 a month for a four-month period ending September 30. States that opted-in to the expanded benefit, a group that includes Montana, needed to take advantage of the opportunity by the beginning of the four-month term in June.

The monthly cash-value voucher for fruit and vegetable purchases is in normal times $9 per child and $11 for women who are pregnant, postpartum or breastfeeding. In other words, the boost, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, can more than triple the fruit and vegetable voucher for some who qualify. Montana’s WIC participation hovers around 14,000 people; around 10,000 could see the expanded fruit-and-vegetable payments, the state Department of Public Health and Human Services said.

The annual income threshold for a family of four to receive WIC benefits is $48,470.

“It’s really important,” said Rep. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, who sits on the Health Advisory Commission that approved the payments Thursday. “I think of pregnant women, infants and children being able to put more fresh fruit and vegetables into their bellies, and that’s a really good thing for this summer.” 

The commission is one of four steering groups that were formed under House Bill 632, legislation implementing and authorizing payments under the American Rescue Plan Act.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture notified states of the ability to take advantage of the expanded funds in March. But the Legislature didn’t specifically authorize the benefit during the session, and the ARPA advisory commissions aren’t slated to meet regularly until June 3, by which point it would be too late to take advantage of the opportunity.

The Health Advisory Commission wasn’t scheduled to meet Thursday until the Montana Food Bank Network, the Montana Association of WIC Agencies and Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies notified lawmakers on the committee, the governor and DPHHS director Adam Meier that the state still had to authorize the benefits soon or else become the only state to opt-in to the expansion and not take advantage of it.

The Food Bank Network learned last week that local WIC clinics were holding off on issuing June benefits as they didn’t know how much of the fruit and vegetable payments to allocate, said Lorianne Burhop, the network’s policy director. Administering payments can be a time-intensive process as clinics distribute individual benefit packages to WIC-eligible families in the region, so the clinics needed guidance soon in order to begin sending out payments.

Nearly one in six kids in this state live in a food insecure home,” Burhop said. “WIC reaches kids at their most critical points in development.”

That outreach effort began last week, meaning that the meeting to approve the funds came together in a handful of days.

“We never intended to hold up the process  — we wanted to make sure that pregnant women, children and infants get fresh vegetables and fruit,” Caferro said. “The way the human services ARPA funding works, there’s so many wonderful opportunities to strengthen families and so we missed this.” 

Editor’s note: This story was updated on May 24, 2021 to clarify that both lawmakers and administration officials serve on the Health Advisory Commission. 

Thousands of Montanans will see increased WIC benefits for produce