Mother & Baby Program Improves Patient and Child Health and Wellbeing

By: Karen Coy, Pine Rest Staff

When Pine Rest unveiled its innovative Mother & Baby Partial Hospitalization Program in 2012 to treat perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and encourage mother-baby bonding, it was the goal to help women and their families. After collecting patient outcome data over a 22-month period, clinical evidence now shows that patients’ symptoms are actually decreasing and patients are getting better.

When Rebekah became pregnant with her son four years ago, it was not the joy-filled journey she had hoped for. A previous miscarriage had filled her thoughts with fear and anxiety over the impending birth, and she was diagnosed with panic disorder during her sixth month of pregnancy.

After an emergency cesarean section, she gave birth to a healthy son, but her emotional condition continued to deteriorate. She was unable to sleep and was consumed with dark and disturbing thoughts.

 “I felt like I was in a torture chamber and began to have constant thoughts of ending my life,” said Rebekah.

She even made a suicide plan, but on the day she intended to follow through with it, a family member passed on a brochure for the Pine Rest Mother & Baby Program. “It truly was an answer to prayer,” an emotional Rebekah shared.

With her first glimmer of hope, Rebekah, her husband and four-month-old son made the 12-hour journey to Grand Rapids, Michigan from their home in Tennessee.

The recommended stay for this partial hospitalization program is 7-10 days, where under the care of a multi-disciplinary treatment team, clients attend programing during the day including group sessions, returning to their home at night. Participants learn skills to cope with stress, anxiety, depression and other negative emotions they may struggle with while pregnant or caring for their baby. Mothers can bring infants up to eight months old to be cared for in the on-site nursery, while day care for children nine months and older can be arranged through the Safe Families Program offered by Bethany Christian Services, so mothers can focus on their own mental health.

Before she found out about the Mother & Baby Program, the thought of being separated from her son initially kept Rebekah from seeking treatment. “The fact I could bring my son with me was really a blessing. It made the experience more positive, rather than adding more trauma by being apart,” she said. “I was also able to continue breast feeding, which was really important to me.”

“We have heard from so many mothers that going through our program has been life changing,”

said Sara Tucker, MA LLP, Partial Hospitalization Programs Clinical Service Manager for Pine Rest. “Our clients often share they can talk about their feelings in a safe environment, where they feel heard and validated.”

“My first night, I slept seven hours,” added Rebekah. “I felt like people cared, that they weren’t going to let my suffering continue. I also found a community of other women that also struggled after their children were born. Everyone had a different story, but it was so great to share and not feel alone.”

Measuring the Program’s Outcomes

When Pine Rest began to collect data on patient outcomes that measured anxiety, depression and mother-baby bonding over a 22-month period, Tucker hoped it would prove these positive changes were more than just a fluke. The results were exciting.

“While we have always had anecdotal evidence our clients are improving, what I am most proud of is we now have statistical evidence that shows our patients symptoms are actually decreasing,” said Tucker. “We have clinical proof our patients are getting better.”

Clients who received treatment in the Mother & Baby Program between September 2019 and November 2021 were given standardized tests, including the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale , Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 item scale , and the Postpartum Bonding Questionnaire when they were admitted to the program, halfway through their stay, and again at discharge. The results showed large and consistent treatment gains in all areas.

Average depression and anxiety scores indicated moderate to severe symptoms upon admission, but they were in the mild symptom range and below the clinical cutoff level by the end of the program. In other words, mothers experienced a large decrease in depression and anxiety symptoms, and average scores even suggested a remission of these symptoms by discharge.

Clients also reported clinically significant decreases in impaired mother-baby bonding, and maternal rejection, anger, or anxiety towards their baby. For former client Mackenzie W., this was especially important.

“The Mother & Baby Program changed my life,” shared Mackenzie after she went through treatment several years ago. “I learned how to interact with my baby and how to care for myself. I learned that both are ok and that I am still a priority while also nurturing my baby.”

The positive influence of improving the mental wellbeing of a mother can extend to her baby as well.

“These results indicate that the Mother & Baby Program not only significantly improves maternal mental health, but also improves critical aspects of the mother-baby bond that has shown to have large impacts on the child’s later development, including neurobiological, social, emotional and cognitive/development outcomes,” said Evonne Edwards, PhD, a Pine Rest clinical psychologist who analyzed the patient outcomes data.

Tucker is proud of the work her staff does to ensure these beneficial results for their clients, who can take advantage of the program during pregnancy and up to three years postpartum. “The staff is very committed about what they are doing. They genuinely want to help, and many have a close personal connection to a friend or family member who has experienced a postpartum disorder,” shared Tucker.

Serving these women is a calling for Naomi Savoie-Miller, LMSW, a clinical therapist who has been with the Mother & Baby Program for the past five years. “I am so passionate about working with our moms to help them believe in themselves again,” said Savoie-Miller. “I feel honored to play a part in the process of helping them break the cycles of guilt and shame, and to provide a safe atmosphere where our moms can heal, which in turn brings healing to families and communities.”

Rebekah is one of the many mothers over the past 10 years who have expressed gratitude for the healing they experienced. “God used Pine Rest to save my life, to get me the help I needed from people who care,” said Rebekah. “I can live life now in a much healthier place than if I had not gone through the program.”

The Mother & Baby Program runs Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. – 3:15 p.m., and clients can enter the program on any day of the week. For additional information please visit pinerest.org/moms, or call 800.678.5500 for referrals or admission to the program.

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