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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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!
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.
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.”
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:
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  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.
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.
As a direct service provider, you’ve most likely been in a situation where a client sat across the table from you with a complex problem, looking to you for help, and you didn’t have what they needed. It is a terrible feeling, especially when it’s a new mother and she is on the verge of crisis.
We know it’s tempting to throw a hand out together out of desperation and urgency but, unfortunately, if this process goes awry, it can be damaging and dangerous. Referring an individual suffering from a PMAD to someone who doesn’t understand the nature of these conditions can have disastrous and devastating effects. Think added shame, blame, isolation, and worse. These are complex mental health disorders that require specialized care.
In response, Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies created a framework that communities in Montana can use to create a local resource guide that truly feels like a tool. One that providers and patients/clients can consult with confidence. One that allows the referral process to feel more like the passing of a torch than a shot in the dark.
We are currently piloting this project in Helena. The Maternal Mental Health Task Force of the Early Childhood Coalition will publish the guide and update it annually.
In addition to listing providers and clinicians with specific PMAD training & expertise, the guide will also list:
Support groups led by clinicians and trained peer advocates
Local prevention, wellness and support services
National and local warm-lines and support-lines
We are seeking more providers to apply who have experience working with people in the perinatal period!
In order to be included in the guide, which will be in print and online, eligibility requirements are:
A minimum of 10 CE hours on the topic of Perinatal Mental Health for healthcare and mental health professionals or 5 CE hours for non-healthcare professionals
Minimum of one year in practice with perinatal clients
Up-to-date and licensed in your field
Additional vetting criteria is available if you don’t meet these requirements, please just ask
If you or the providers you represent meet the qualifications to be listed in this guide, please fill out the below application so that our Resource Guide Committee can review your information. Questions can be asked via email at email@example.com or by phone at 406-763-6811.
Written by Emily Clewis on behalf of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies and the Maternal Mental Health Task Force of Helena.
In honor of May as Maternal Mental Health Month, Helena’s Maternal Mental Health Task Force, in partnership with Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, would like to highlight ways that communities can support moms during the postpartum period.
While holding a new baby is exciting, it’s the birthing person that truly needs to be held, loved and supported in this golden but vulnerable time. Their body and mind will have run the ultimate marathon and they will need support. If the mother is well supported during this time, she can care well for the new baby. If you’re visiting in the first weeks, remember you are there to support the parents. Remind them they don’t need to host you and that you are there to help.
Always ask parents before coming to visit. In the blur of the first few weeks, flexibility is best! Remember: new babies have no sense of night or day, so parents may be sleeping with their little ones at noon after being up all night. If they say they are welcoming visitors, when you get to their house, wash your hands well and keep your face away from the baby. Babies are vulnerable to common illnesses. Offer to bring by healthy snacks or a ready to heat nutritious meal! New moms, especially those breastfeeding, will be hungry often as it takes much energy to care for newborns. If they feed the baby while you’re there, help her put her feet up and offer to get her water or a snack (then, maybe do the dishes).
Look around the home for things that need to be done; laundry, dishes, taking out the trash, etc. If there are older children in the house offer to watch a movie with them or take them on a walk. Always ask the parents if it’s okay to hold the baby. If they say yes, encourage them to take a shower or quick nap while you’re there. Ask new parents what they need, they will likely tell you! Finally, don’t overstay. Parents during this time are heavily exhausted, and even well-meaning company can make parents feel the need to entertain. An hour or so is plenty in those first few weeks, unless the parents ask otherwise!
Keep in mind that the No. 1 complication of birth is postpartum depression. One in six Montana mothers will experience it. Knowing the signs and symptoms of mood disorders in the postpartum period increases the likelihood of treatment. Some things to look for include sadness, guilt, inability to make decisions, poor self-care, low self-esteem, mood swings, appetite changes, excessive crying and more. While only a health care provider can offer treatment, if you, or the new mom in your life, is experiencing any of these symptoms, encourage them that it’s not their fault they feel that way, and that help is available through their OB or primary care physician.
Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic may have made the experience of having a little one more nerve racking. Families may have varying feelings of comfortability having multiple visitors during this vulnerable period of recovery. Ask parents what precautions they may be taking and if they are up for visitors! If they aren’t, you can still support them by dropping off easy-to-heat meals, or sending a gift card to DoorDash, Grubhub or their favorite restaurant.
Families in the postpartum, or fourth trimester, thrive with healthy community support. Additionally, moms are less likely to suffer from perinatal depression and babies have better health outcomes. Together, we can ensure that parents have a positive postpartum experience!
Have you wondered what it would be like to be a baby born during the pandemic? How about a mother giving birth alone or nearly so? New parents and their babies are facing greater risks than ever.
Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies (HMHB-MT) knows the greatest impact of stress on the human brain is when still developing in the womb. And the first five years of life are critical, setting the foundation for a stable and healthy life. This pandemic has brought enormous amounts of stress to parents and other caretakers. Workplace changes, child care shortages and a loss of the natural web of social support. Nothing looks or feels familiar. Surveys of Montana parents during the COVID-19 pandemic tell us that parents are struggling to meet their children’s basic needs and provide them with safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. Brain development of infants and young children can suffer without these supports.
Fortunately, we know that there are ways to help combat this added stress. HMHB-MT is providing families the support they are asking for during this time, just like we have been for the past 36 years. We use data from the parent surveys and state need assessments. We activate our state and local networks built by years of programming, advocacy and policy work for pregnant moms and families with young children. We apply best-practice solutions to complex social challenges to ensure that our work aligns with prevention science and protective factor research.
During this pandemic, HMHB-MT has leveraged resources to support resiliency in families. We launched the Safe Sleep Campaign with a message that parents still have the ability to keep their baby safe when asleep, even though so many other factors are out of their control. We helped meet basic needs by distributing essential items: cribs, car seats, diapers, wipes, formula, breast feeding supplies and more to every reservation and 24 counties. We continue to provide training on postpartum depression so moms will have access to care they need. HMHB-MT hosted its 3rd Annual Perinatal Mental Health Conference, virtually, in November with over 150 participants from across the state. And we helped advocate for an additional $50 million dollars of CARES act funding designated to help support childcare.
We find ourselves facing many great challenges. HMHB-MT is here to make sure that as a state we never lose sight of the fact that what happens today will impact our smallest citizens in the largest way. We all have an enormous responsibility to act with them in mind.
We hope you will join us and donate today to ensure that families have what they need to be resilient through this pandemic and beyond. Although our work and our lives may be stressful and look different, coming together to make a difference still looks the same. It is generations to come that are depending on us to get this right.
This opinion was signed by Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Montana Executive Director Brie MacLaurin, RN; board chair Kelly Minnehan-Galt; and board member David Lechner, M.D.