Enhancing Community Care: Vetted Guides for Effective Referrals in Perinatal Mental Health

By advocacy, Caregiving, Community, Community Support, Maternal Mental Health, Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders

Montana has far reaching support systems for families during pregnancy and early childhood. Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies (HMHB) works hand-in-hand with these networks and local groups, striving to gather and share the knowledge and skills necessary to serve families during these crucial stages of life. A frequent challenge we hear about is the difficulty in referring patients and clients to appropriate resources.

Communities can address this challenge by creating community specific vetted guides to help parents, caregivers, and providers find the assistance they need promptly. To support these efforts, HMHB and partners developed a toolkit to help community groups build an effective directory of perinatal mental health and support specialists.

vetted resource guideCollaborating for Comprehensive Support

HMHB collaborated with the Maternal Mental Health Taskforce of the Helena Early Childhood Coalition and the Flathead Perinatal Mental Health Coalition of the Flathead Valley Early Childhood Coalition to create this valuable resource. This toolkit is tailored to help community groups create, organize, and maintain an up-to-date list of local resources, ensuring that

families receive the best possible care.

The team at the Early Childhood Coalition of Flathead Valley recently went through the process of creating a new vetted guide.  You can see that work here.

What’s Inside the Vetted Guide Toolkit?

The toolkit contains resources and templates to simplify the process of building a community-specific referral list. Here’s what you’ll find inside:

  • Points of Consideration: Guidance on the language to use and categories to include in your resource list.
  • Criteria for Vetted Guides: Examples of criteria that can be adopted to create a reliable and vetted guide for your community.
  • Content for Outreach: Pre-made content to populate an online form for outreach and recruitment efforts.
  • Inspiration from Existing Resources: A compilation of other referral lists to inspire and guide your efforts.
  • Designed Templates: Ready-to-use templates to streamline the process of creating your resource list.

Empowering Communities Through Collaboration

By leveraging this toolkit, community groups can enhance their system of care and referrals, making it easier for families to access the support they need during pregnancy and early childhood. Our collaboration with local coalitions underscores the importance of working together to create robust, effective support networks.

If you’re in a community that hasn’t yet built a vetted resource guide, don’t forget to refer to the LIFTS Online Resource Guide for a comprehensive statewide list of service providers.

Let’s work together to build stronger, more supportive communities for all Montana families.

Tips to Help Siblings Transition When a New Baby Comes Home, by the HMHB Team

By Parenting, pregnancy, Self-compassion

This is a featured article from our 3rd edition of the LIFTS Magazine.  

Tips to Help Siblings Transition When a New Baby Comes Homes, by the HMHB Team

Welcoming a new sibling is a big adjustment for everyone! Here are some tips and tricks to help ease the transition:

  • Snuggle up and read books about what to expect when a new baby comes home. Take time to talk about the changes to come and what feelings might come up.
  • Look at photos and videos and tell stories about what it was like when they were born and first came home.
  • Ask them what they’re most excited about and what they hope to teach their new sibling.
  • Take a moment to greet them by yourself and have a few minutes of one on one time before introducing them to the baby.
  • Give them a special gift (from baby) when baby comes home.
  • When taking care of the baby (feeding, diapering, bathing, etc.) ask them if they would like to help and give them a special task so they feel included and appreciated.
  • Before feeding baby, get them a snack/drink or interested in an activity.
  • Read to young children while feeding baby. Have child hold the book and turn the pages or play a “no-hands” game, “I spy something red…”
  • Teach other children how to get/make a special snack for themselves. This will help them feel like a big kid!
  • Set aside 5 minutes of focused, uninterrupted one on one time when they have your FULL attention the whole time. Even just a few minutes goes a long way.
  • Build forts or special nooks where they can retreat and let their imaginations run wild. Try a cardboard box with Christmas lights poked through so they can “stargaze”.
  • Tell stories of what things were like when you were a kid. Our children sometimes forget that we were once little too and we can remember what that feels like. This helps them feel seen and understood.

Prairie Wolfe, a Somatic Therapist from Missoula, recommends these exercises to help you and your children process big emotions:

LET THEM FEEL POWERFUL. Press hands, palm to palm with your kid and then push each other across the room and let them win. Let them knock you over! Exclaim about their power, “Whoa! How did you get so strong?! I am pushing as hard as I can and you are pushing me across the room!”

As often as you can, talk to your kids about their strong emotions. Say to them, “I see you. I still love you and accept you, even when you’re mad.” This helps our kids learn that their needs for belonging and authentic expression can both exist and both be met, at the same time.

And, for you, recognize and honor when you’re feeling activated, frustrated, and downright angry. Parenting is incredibly challenging and it’s helpful to have ways to release intense emotions in safe and healthy ways.

Grab a washcloth or dish towel and twist it up until you can feel the tension between your hands. Wring it as tightly as you can and then let the tension in your jaw, spine, and shoulders really grind and release into the towel. Then, add sound. Try a low growl, like a “grrrr” sound so you can really give this anger a voice and a place for it to go. Stay present and FEEL the sensations in your body. When you’re ready, release and breathe deeply. Check in with your body afterwards to see what has changed. Be curious about how your energy felt before and after this release?

Spotlight on the 2024 Montana Status of Women Report

By advocacy, Community, Community Support

Today on the HMHB blog, we are excited to amplify the newly released 2024 report ‘The Status of Women in Montana: Advancing Policy for Economic Equity.’  This report was meticulously prepared by the team at the Montana Budget and Policy Center with an introduction from the Women’s Foundation of Montana. It provides a comprehensive analysis of the current state of women in Montana, highlighting policy pathways to improve economic opportunities, health and well-being, political participation, and improving lives for families and women in Montana.

The report is a valuable resource for understanding the challenges and progress in achieving gender equity in our state. It offers critical insights and data to inform policy decisions and advocacy efforts aimed at enhancing the lives of women in Montana. The report presents a variety of solutions and pathways to equity, including:

  • Improving access to affordable childcare
  • Preserving reproductive rights and autonomy
  • Improving access to healthcare, including Medicaid expansion
  • Providing paid family leave
  • Amplifying efforts to expand work related to ending the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) epidemic

We encourage you to read the full report to gain a deeper understanding of these important issues. You can access the report here.

Lifting Up New Moms, by Emily Clewis

By Caregiving, Community, Feeding Baby, Maternal Mental Health, Parenting, pregnancy, Self-care, Self-compassion

This is a featured article from our 1st edition (2021) of the LIFTS Magazine.  

Lifting Up New Moms

By Emily Clewis

A new life joining the world is a very exciting time. Friends and family members may be eager to gather around to take part in celebrating the new bundle of joy! There are so many ways to show up for families welcoming a new baby. Before you invite yourself over to hold that new baby, there are some really important things to keep in mind.

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. If the mother is well supported, she can better care for her new baby. Supporting parents in what they need is just as important as welcoming their baby.

The first couple of weeks are crucial for bonding, and new parents may not want any visitors during this vulnerable period. Always ask parents what precautions they may be taking and if they are up for visitors before coming to visit. 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. Be flexible with your plans for visiting and understand they may change.

If you do visit, wash your hands well and keep your face away from the baby’s, as babies are vulnerable to common illnesses. 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. This is a great opportunity for them to take care of themselves!

Offer to bring healthy snacks or a ready-to-heat nutritious meal. Ask mom if she has eaten, and maybe make her a meal (and then do the dishes!). New moms, especially those breastfeeding, are always thirsty and require more calories. If she feeds the baby while you’re there, help her put her feet up and offer to get her water or a snack.

Look around 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. 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.

The early weeks of having a newborn is a beautiful time to support moms and babies. With healthy support, parents are less likely to suffer from perinatal depression and their babies have better health outcomes. Feel empowered to show up for new parents in a way that is helpful, supportive, loving, and graceful.

 

Boundaries to Support You

During postpartum, it is easy to be led by excitement and pride. You want desperately to share this new human with the world and to shout, “Look what I did!” from the rooftops. As women, we know that in the first few weeks, we are supposed to rest and allow our bodies to heal and recover. But our friends and family start calling, and we tell ourselves that we will rest later. Suddenly, visitors and responsibilities snowball, and somewhere under it all, there we are, crushed and tired as hell.

Here are some simple phrases to help draw boundaries around yourself in postpartum.

“We are not ready for visitors at this time.”

“I’m feeling really tired today. Let’s plan for another time when I’m feeling up to company.”

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

“I don’t feel comfortable with that quite yet. I can reach out to you when I feel ready!”

“I know we had plans, but I’m not quite up for it after all. Let’s try again in a few days. In the meantime, here are some sweet pictures!”

“What I really need help with at this time is…”

“No.”

Mama, feel empowered to listen to and advocate for your own needs during this time. Speak them fiercely and unapologetically, even if your voice shakes. Your own mental and physical health is so important, and you have permission to draw a circle of protection around yourself.

 

 

To find resources and support for postpartum, parenting and more, visit our LIFTS Online Resource Guide at https://hmhb-lifts.org/. 

The Becoming, by April Lemieux

By Parenting, pregnancy, Self-compassion

This is a featured poem from our 3rd edition of the LIFTS Magazine.  

 

The Becoming, by April Lemieux

My lips formed around

your name, little one,

long before I ever

held you close.

My body a living shelter

around the ember

of your essence.

And now here you are

living and breathing and

Oh….who knew it could

all feel so big?

This mothering.

This sudden vastness

of love that stretches wide and deep

like the prairie sky.

Oh tiny being,

my child,

my heart.

You have undone me

and made me whole

in the space of one breath.

What magic.

What wonder.

 

To find resources and support for postpartum, parenting and more, visit our LIFTS Online Resource Guide at https://hmhb-lifts.org/

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

Rupture & Repair as a New Parent, by Cait McWilliams

By Parenting, pregnancy, Self-compassion

This is a featured article from our 3rd edition of the LIFTS Magazine.  

Rupture & Repair as a New Parent, by Cait McWilliams

Becoming “mama” was not a part of my plan. I didn’t have a spare room that I was planning to turn into a warm and welcoming nursery. My partner was barely a partner and more of a very attractive man that I had met in a bar. My kitchen had no food but plenty of booze. I wasn’t exactly taking my vitamins on a regular basis.

I had just moved halfway across the country and all the way out of a marriage. I was untethered and exploring my newfound freedom when, in the midst of my move, I met a man who lit me up and captured my curiosity. We threw caution to the wind and avoided conversations about a future together. After our initial connection, we went our separate ways and then, a few weeks later, I found out I was pregnant–with him living in Seattle and me in Denver.

A rigid schedule and stability had felt like death to me in my 20s but now I had to get myself out of the way so I could create a life that supported this cub. I told my gypsy self she was no longer invited to the party and tried to lock her away out of intense fear that, haunted by my own trauma, I would destroy this family. In my attempt to “do it right,” I shut down parts of me that still mattered and was not able to allow myself to be human.

I was exhausted, depleted, fearful and in a new town without deep-set connections–including with my partner. From a nervous system viewpoint, I was in a state of constant survival. The feeling of being in a state of survival is one of intense stress and heavy burden on our physical beings – constricted muscles, tight jaw, chest breathing, constant startle, difficulty tracking conversations, insomnia, poor digestion, upset stomachs, inflammation.

This intense stress impacted my little as he was growing in my womb and for those first few months of his life, when attunement is key, but almost impossible when your system is filled with fear. I used the tools my parents had used, enmeshment and manipulation, to navigate my overwhelmed system. I fell back into familiar patterns of override and numbness. I rarely felt settled enough to rest and just play, and my attunement was primarily based in vigilance and not as much on connection.

At around sixish months, certain variables began to shift which allowed my system to start to release the grip of survival. My life, which had been ruptured by my unplanned pregnancy, began to repair and take on a new shape full of a deeper love and security than my younger self had ever known.

I began to build secure attachments (a foreign language to me before becoming pregnant). My partner and I found our rhythm and decided to make a life together. I met dear friends with babies the same age that I would gather with regularly for hikes, hangs, or just to fold laundry and compare notes. They brought playfulness and curiosity back into my life which are the opposite of fear and constriction. We learned from each other and gave ourselves permission to be imperfect.

My body became familiar again. That first year of mamahood, my body was unlike it had ever been in my life – large breasts and a split apart core. I didn’t know how to dress, and things that had physically come naturally to me in the past, were now impossible to access. As my core began to knit back together, I could feel my sense of self-worth building in potency instead of leaking out of me.

As I experienced the rupture that can happen during and after having a baby, I began to also witness the repair in my own life, which helped me begin to see the seeds that were planted in this cub during more fragile times. And, as I began to repair my own system and come out of survival, I began to provide him with repair as well.

I was coming out of my fear body and, as my new life came into focus and I stopped being so damn scared, I began to find joy. It took time. It took making mistakes. It took being a mess and asking for help. It took moving my body, finding people who loved me even when my breasts were leaking and my BO smelled like french onion soup (a real thing). It took me doing my own work studying Somatic Experiencing while also doing personal work with a therapist. It took me forgiving myself while also holding myself accountable. It took me having the courage to admit my failings to my cub.

And, as we grew our family (having two more cubs and weathering other storms), the wisdom I gained by walking through the intensity of what felt like an explosion of self, has acted as a guiding light many, many times over the last decade.

So, dear birthing people, as you hold that new little, know that you are not alone in your fears.  This is a time of great rupture–mind, body, spirit, relationships. In many ways, what you thought you knew will be turned on its head. But, repair is possible even if it’s hard to imagine what that looks like in those early moments.

Reach out for help.

Connect with others.

Move your body.

Find permission.

You are not alone.

Repair is possible!

To find local supportive parenting resources visit: https://hmhb-lifts.org/ and use the search terms “somatic”, “counselors”, “mental health providers”, “support groups” or “parenting classes”.

To learn more about Cait’s offerings visit her site: https://www.thebodyiswise.com/.

HMHB in April Issue of Health Affairs

By Community Support, Maternal Mental Health, Native American Initiatives, Native Cultural Connections, Parenting

Behind the Scenes: A Strategy to Support Perinatal Mental Health By Collaborating With Tribal Communities in Montana (A note from our Executive Director, Stephanie Morton)

Hello HMHB Supporters,

I am elated to share that staff at HMHB authored an article that will be featured in Health Affairs, April issue on Perinatal Mental Health and Wellbeing.  You can link directly to the article and full April Issue (both are open access).

Led by Dr. Amy Stiffarm, PhD, MPH, Director of Native American Initiatives at HMHB, HMHB staff including myself, Dawn Gunderson, CLC, Program and Communications Coordinator and former Executive Director, Brie MacLaurin, collaborated with Nicole Redvers, Maridee Shogren, Terri Wright and Andrew Williams, to produce the article titled, “A Strategy to Support Perinatal Mental Health by Collaborating With Tribal Communities in Montana.” The article highlights work completed to include family-supporting resources on Reservations in Montana into the LIFTS Online Resource Guide (hmhb-lifts.org). This project was completed in partnership with HMHB and Dr. Stiffarm while she was a graduate student at the University of North Dakota in the Indigenous Health Program. Funding from the Montana Obstetrics and Maternal Support (MOMS) Program made it possible for the HMHB Team to fittingly engage Tribal communities in the process of mapping local resource relevant to pregnant and parenting families to be listed in the LIFTS Resource Guide.

The HMHB team is so appreciative of the funding, partnership and support that has allowed us to engage in this important work. Many of you have been key partners in this work and for that we are deeply grateful. Additionally, we are so thankful for the community members who shared their time and knowledge to improve the system of care for families in Indian Country in Montana. Please join me in congratulating Dr. Stiffarm and the team on this success. We are so proud to work with you all to continue to improve the health and wellbeing of Montana moms, babies and families.

Sincerely,

Stephanie Morton
Executive Director

 

Find Native Cultural Connections and other support in your community on the LIFTS Online Resource Guide at https://hmhb-lifts.org/.

Learn more about Dr. Amy Stiffarm’s work and our Native American Initiatives Program

 

Week of the Young Child in Montana: Celebrating Our Little Ones

By Early Childhood

From April 8th to April 12th, organizations across the state of Montana are gearing up to celebrate the Week of the Young Child (WOYC), a special time dedicated to honoring and recognizing the early years of childhood. This annual event is a nationwide initiative by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and is spearheaded at a state level by the Montana Association for the Education of Young Children (MTAEYC).

The Week of the Young Child is a dedicated time to raise awareness about the crucial significance of early childhood education and development. Communities unite during this week to honor children and the devoted professionals who nurture their growth and learning. Throughout Montana, the Week of the Young Child is commemorated with an abundance of events and activities tailored to engage children, families, educators, and community members alike. From interactive workshops and storytelling sessions to outdoor adventures and family picnics, the week offers a diverse range of opportunities for learning, exploration, and enjoyment.  Themed days include Music Monday, Tasty Tuesday, Work Together Wednesday, Artsy Thursday, and Family Friday.

 

Here are examples of fun and exciting activities across Montana:

;

 

You can check out the comprehensive list of WOYC events on the Montana Association for the Education of Young Children (MTAEYC) website here.

If you’re interested in hosting your own WOYC event, you can find more information from the NAEYC website here.

By celebrating the Week of the Young Child, Montana reaffirms its commitment to investing in the well-being and future of its youngest citizens. So let’s come together, celebrate our little ones, and build a brighter future for all!    
A parent and child sit amidst packed boxes, representing the struggles of eviction.

Facing Eviction: The Critical Impact on Children Under 5 in Montana and Across the Nation

By advocacy, Caregiving, Community, Eviction, Housing, Parenting, Perinatal Substance Use Disorders
Today on the HMHB blog, we’re sharing crucial new insights about eviction in Montana, graciously communicated by our colleagues at the Montana Legal Services Association. Michelle Potts, Director of Strategic Focus and Development, has provided us with invaluable information regarding the impact of eviction. Read more about this pressing issue and its implications.

 

From Michelle Potts, Director of Strategic Focus and Development at Montana Legal Services Association:

Howdy! I know you all work so very hard to make our communities a better place, and thought you might find local Montana data to be of help in your work. We recently published two new Montana reports: Beyond Housing Affordability assesses the data of 65 client households who faced eviction in both rural and urban areas of Montana, while A Sample of Personal Narratives allows the clients to tell about the impact in their lived experience.

Unfortunately, our Montana study confirms a new study from the Eviction Lab, which shows that children under age 5 make up the largest group facing eviction nationwide. Hopefully this data will help you make the case for the support you need for your work.

Key takeaways from our Montana report include:

  • 48% of households facing eviction had at least one child
  • Over half of the respondents spent more than 10% of their annual income on the cost of the eviction itself – a huge burden for families already struggling to meet basic expenses.
  • 100% experienced increased expenses before the eviction, including medical emergencies, added childcare expenses, domestic violence/divorce, or added elderly dependents.
  • Respondents reported additional up-stream social breakdowns: 17% had a death in the family; 18% had violence or abuse in the household; 12% had alcohol abuse in the household; 14% had a divorce or separation; and 69% had a mental illness in the household. For households with children, these events are considered Adverse Childhood Experiences, which are linked to chronic health problems and mental illness in adolescence and adulthood. At least 5 of the top 10 leading causes of death are associated with ACEs.
  • 31% of respondents were in unstable and at-risk housing after the eviction process, including 26% of households with children. 18% were homeless as a result of the eviction.

The report includes interviews and direct quotes from Montanans facing eviction, including:

  • When asked what factors led to the eviction, one respondent replied that the “landlord doubled the rent with 10 days’ notice from $1,200 to $2,400.”
  • Survey respondents described the impact of facing an eviction on their families: “One of my children dropped out of school afterwards and did not finish high school” and “I attempted suicide 6 months after I moved.”
  • “It took all the funds I had for the storage units I had to rent and the U-Haul, plus I lost my food stamps because I had no rent but had to pay cash if I stayed anywhere.”
  • “The only reason we had a child was because we thought our rental situation was going to be long-term, and now, the only “home” my child has known is a hotel room.”
Thank you to the team Montana Legal Services Association for allowing us to share this information.  To reiterate what Michelle eloquently stated, “Hopefully this data will help you make the case for the support you need for your work.”