New year, new baby? Support is all around from Dartmouth Health

Silhouette photo of woman sitting on ground next to baby crib with her head in her hands

Motherhood can feel so isolating, but we are here to help.

Heather A. Martin, RMA

As 2024 begins, parents expecting a new baby this year may be feeling the stress of the “countdown” being on. While some level of anxiety related to pregnancy, birth and having a newborn is normal, welcoming a new baby, especially for pregnant or postpartum mothers, does not have to mean tolerating or ignoring mental health concerns. Help is available for people experiencing postpartum depression, and getting that help is the best thing for mothers, their babies and their families.

“I’m always assessing for mental health risks when I meet with patients,” said Beatrice W. Ngugi, MSW, PMH-C, a social worker- with obstetrics and gynecology at Dartmouth Health’s Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC). “I try to normalize that this happens so patients are not ashamed. I also encourage them to make a post-pregnancy plan with family and friends for support once the baby arrives.”

Feeling sad or anxious before or after having a baby is common. One in five people in New Hampshire have depression during or after pregnancy, and more than half of pregnancy-related deaths are linked to suicide or drug overdose. Being aware of the signs of maternal mental health concerns and knowing what resources are available is critical, in the earliest days of new motherhood.

“The biggest aspect of perinatal mental health is education—for our families to know the symptoms, what to do if you or your loved one is struggling, and who to contact,” said Heather A. Martin, RMA, a maternal mental health advocate with Dartmouth Health Children’s. “There is help, and it’s OK to ask for help. And support can look different for everyone: therapy, support groups, and family resource centers are all ways we can support our mothers and families. Motherhood can feel so isolating, but we are here to help.”

Signs to look out for include: 

  • Having a hard time getting out of bed
  • Not enjoying the activities that used to bring joy
  • Emotional changes
  • Behavioral changes
  • Inability to sleep or sleeping too much
  • Having suicidal thoughts or that the affected person’s loved ones are better off without them

Julia R. Frew, MD, a DHMC psychiatrist who works with OB-GYN, says certain changes that come with having a baby can also increase the risk of a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder. They can happen within the first four weeks after giving birth or up until 12 months after, and include:

  • Hormonal changes
  • Lifestyle changes, including being home on maternity leave when being used to working
  • Trying to do everything in the home oneself, including caring for other children
  • Extreme lack of sleep

When any of these signs are exhibited, the first thing to do is to contact the mother’s healthcare provider. “If symptoms develop, there are safe and effective treatments for pregnant and breastfeeding people,” Frew said.

Family members and friends can help by creating a plan that includes:

  • Making sure the mother gets a minimum of four hours of uninterrupted sleep
  • Taking care of diapering at feeding time
  • Being a call away in the middle of the night
  • Setting limits for visits
  • Making and delivering meals (especially the first two weeks postpartum)
  • Encouraging self-care
  • Offering resources, including local parenting groups

Dartmouth Health has multiple resources available, including:

  • Women’s Health Resource Center, The 4th Trimester: New Mother Support Group, Thursdays, 11 am. Make friends, share and have questions answered about nursing and other baby care issues. Partners are welcome.
  • Women’s Health Resource Center, Virtual 4th Trimester Group, Wednesdays, 10 am. Pre-register at 603-650-2600.
  • To see a provider Monday-Friday, 8 am to 5 pm, call 603-653-9300. After hours, call 603-650-5000 and ask for the OB provider on call; or go to the closest Emergency Room.

Other resources include:

About Dartmouth Health

Dartmouth Health, New Hampshire's only academic health system and the state's largest private employer, serves patients across northern New England. Dartmouth Health provides access to more than 2,000 providers in almost every area of medicine, delivering care at its flagship hospital, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH, as well as across its wide network of hospitals, clinics and care facilities. DHMC is consistently named the #1 hospital in New Hampshire by U.S. News & World Report, and recognized for high performance in numerous clinical specialties and procedures. Dartmouth Health includes Dartmouth Cancer Center, one of only 56 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the nation, and the only such center in northern New England; Dartmouth Health Children’s, which includes Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, the state’s only children’s hospital, and multiple clinic locations around the region; member hospitals in Lebanon, Keene and New London, NH, and Bennington and Windsor, VT; Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire; and more than 24 clinics that provide ambulatory services across New Hampshire and Vermont. Through its historical partnership with Dartmouth and the Geisel School of Medicine, Dartmouth Health trains nearly 400 medical residents and fellows annually, and performs cutting-edge research and clinical trials recognized across the globe with Geisel and the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, VT. Dartmouth Health and its more than 13,000 employees are deeply committed to serving the healthcare needs of everyone in our communities, and to providing each of our patients with exceptional, personal care.

About Dartmouth Health Children's

Dartmouth Health Children's is the only comprehensive pediatric healthcare system in the region. Fully integrated in Dartmouth Health and anchored for more than 30 years by Children's Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (CHaD)—in Lebanon, NH—Dartmouth Health Children's promotes health, advances knowledge, and delivers the best patient and family-centered care for infants, children, and adolescents across New Hampshire and Vermont. Dartmouth Health Children's conducts groundbreaking research and educates the next generations of health professionals as the primary pediatric partner of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. Highly skilled and collaborative child health professionals provide care in multiple settings across the region. Outpatient specialty visits and same-day surgery services are available at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (CHaD) and Dartmouth Hitchcock Clinics Manchester. Primary care appointments in general pediatrics are available at Dartmouth Hitchcock Clinics in Bedford, Concord, Lebanon, Manchester and Nashua, NH and Bennington, VT; as well as at Dartmouth Health members: Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital, Cheshire Medical Center, New London Hospital and Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center.