Advancing Maternal Mental Health

Maternal mental health (MMH) typically refers to a range of mental health conditions that, because of biological and/or social factors, occur during and/or after pregnancy. MMH issues include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, psychosis, substance use disorder, and suicide. Mental health issues are the most common complication of pregnancy and are a leading cause of maternal death.

MMH conditions affect one in five mothers and birthing people. The prevalence has been found to be as high as one in three in groups that experience marginalization — for example Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, immigrants and refugees, those living in poverty, single mothers, and teenage mothers. Risk factors include a prior or family history of mental health issues, trauma history, a traumatic birth experience, a baby who starts life in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), chronic stress, and relationship problems.

Stress and MMH issues during pregnancy are associated with poorer birth outcomes for the baby, including premature delivery and low birth weight, which are themselves risk factors for long term intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental and physical health issues. After birth, these issues can interfere with a mother’s ability to bond with her baby and provide attuned, responsive, and safe care. The effects of a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder for example, can affect child development and behaviors that can be tracked into late adolescence.

Maternal mental health is too often highly medicalized, stigmatized, and regarded as an episodic, low priority women’s issue. Disparities and inequities abound. Perigee is partnering with leaders in the field – centering those who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color – who are reimagining how society and systems must more fully conceptualize and respond to maternal mental health to equitably see and serve more people.

Resource:  Reimagining Perinatal Mental Health: A More Expansive Vision for Structural Change.     

Additionally, to advance MMH, Perigee is working on:

  • Increasing the visibility of MMH to ensure that it is prioritized as the highly prevalent and consequential, but solvable issue that it is, especially in health care and mental health systems.
  • Growing public resources for comprehensive solutions and services through policy advocacy.
  • Training and resourcing a range of diverse workforces (e.g., pediatricians, doulas, home visitors, community health workers) that serve pregnant and parenting people in recognizing MMH issues, implementing role-appropriate interventions, and providing warm connectivity to other forms of care and resources.
  • Investing in culturally specific intervention models.

Two-Generation Opportunity

Maternal mental health conditions are preventable, highly treatable, and early detection can make a positive impact. For too long, we have tolerated the neglect of the most common and solvable complication of pregnancy that interferes with mother-child relationships and costs the economy over $14 billion from pregnancy to the child’s fifth birthday. It is time we all work to build out equitable solutions that recognize the incredible 2gen opportunity we hold.



Cost to the economy

“Maternal mental health needs to be seen as the start of infant mental health.”  

Markita Mays, LCSW
Co-Director, EMBRACE Perinatal Care for Black Women.