05/07/2015 08:08 pm ET Updated May 07, 2016

A Lifeline for Pregnant Women and New Moms: MA ACOG Urges Legislators to Support Important Program

By Tiffany A. Moore Simas, MD, MPH, MEd

If you are, or have ever been, or have ever known, a pregnant woman or a new mother, please consider contacting MA state senators this week -- this week of Mother's Day -- to support the Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Project for Moms (MCPAP for Moms) program and its continued funding through the state budget.

As an obstetrician/gynecologist, I see women almost daily who suffer from depression in pregnancy and the year following delivery. The idyllic picture of a smiling nurturing mother, caressing her growing belly or loving her cooing adoring newborn, is not the reality for many women during pregnancy or the time following a birth. Many women struggle to varying degrees to take care of themselves and their babies -- their struggles are very real and hard to acknowledge. Women feel shame and guilt about not being "the perfect mother." Sometimes mothers are concerned they may harm themselves or their babies. Up to one in seven women experience depression during pregnancy and in the year after giving birth. Depression during pregnancy is twice as common as gestational diabetes. Unrecognized and untreated depression has immediate and long-term consequences for pregnancy, for mothers, for their children, for their families, and for our communities. Until recently, most of these women in Massachusetts were suffering alone -- without help, guidance or treatment.

Last summer, the whole landscape changed! It became brighter -- and a lifeline was thrown to these women and to the providers caring for them. Our state established the first-in-the-nation statewide program to support and serve women with depression. This new program, MCPAP for Moms, provides real-time expert consultation with psychiatrists, and community mental health care coordination to all OB/Gyn providers in MA, so that moms with depression can be helped.

Since its launch in July 2014, MCPAP for Mom has trained 75 obstetrical practices and has served over 450 women. Health care providers can call MCPAP for Moms and speak with a psychiatrist who specializes in women's mental health. OB providers get help for women by receiving advice from a psychiatrist on current best care practices and appropriate use of medications that are safe in pregnancy and breastfeeding. MCPAP for Moms also coordinates ongoing mental health care for these women in their communities. ACOG (the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists) encourages providers to screen women for depression, and our state has new reporting requirements for depression screening - this encourages screening, but screening is insufficient to improve outcomes and thus it must be paired with appropriate treatment and follow-up. MCPAP for Moms does this. This program helps address the serious public health problem being faced in MA regarding the diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care for women with depression in pregnancy and postpartum (after birth). Surely this is money well spent to serve those in need.

MA-ACOG and I were astonished to learn that this program is planned for elimination in the state budget. This program needs to be funded. MCPAP for Moms has proven its value to women, children, families, and the state. The welfare and health of women and families across the entire state will be adversely affected if this program is cut. This program needs to continue so pregnant women and new moms with depression get the treatment they need and deserve. MCPAP for Moms is a lifeline for women with depression. Please join MA-ACOG and me in calling and writing MA state senators to request that this critical program remain funded.

Tiffany A. Moore Simas, MD, MPH, MEd, is a Fellow with the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (ACOG), and an Associate Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School/UMass Memorial Health Care