Philip Bendheim

Supporting Maternal Mental Health: The Essential Work of Yad Sarah

A room at the Yad Sarah Center for Wellness and Respite caters to women and couples who’ve experienced stillbirth - Courtesy of Yad Sarah

As May draws to a close, we reflect on a month dedicated to an incredibly important cause – Maternal Mental Health Month. This crucial initiative aims to raise awareness and address mental health issues faced by new mothers and their families around the world, including those who experience stillbirth or pregnancy loss, and those whose children may be born with special needs. By highlighting the importance of mental health care for mothers and emphasizing the need for education, support and advocacy, this campaign aims to reduce stigmas and improve health outcomes globally. Writing this as a husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather, it is also important to point out that maternal health should not be an issue that women alone are left to face and improve, but is something that should be a priority for the entire family, community and health system.

Pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum period can be incredibly joyous times, but even when everything goes as planned, they can also present significant mental health challenges. Conditions like postpartum depression, anxiety, and the baby blues are more common than many realize. In fact, as many as 80% of new mothers experience the baby blues – hormonal mood swings, crying, restlessness and anxiety – during the first two weeks after giving birth. Postpartum depression can last much longer than that, and affects around one in seven women, while anxiety disorders impact 15-25% of women during pregnancy and after childbirth. 

These statistics are more than numbers; they represent real women and real families facing significant struggles during what should be a wonderful chapter in their lives. The emotional and psychological well-being of mothers during pregnancy and the postpartum period is crucial for the health of both the mother and the newborn. Early screening and intervention can reduce the severity and duration of symptoms, leading to better outcomes for both mothers and their babies. It’s also essential to recognize that maternal mental health isn’t just a women’s issue. About 8-10% of fathers experience postpartum depression, which can significantly impact family dynamics and infants’ development. 

Yad Sarah understands the immense pressure and emotional toll that new parents face, and we recognize the vital role that any support plays in helping to lower the risk of severe postpartum mental health issues. That’s why Yad Sarah offers a range of services to support expecting and new mothers along with their families, and has recently launched vital services for women and families who experience stillbirth or perinatal loss.

When discussing maternal mental health, it’s important to also acknowledge women who have endured loss. For parents who have experienced the heartbreak of stillbirth, the impact on their mental health is significant and likely to be long-lasting. Approximately 50% of couples who lose a baby suffer from anxiety and depression, and around 29% develop PTSD. Additionally, women who have experienced stillbirth are at a higher risk for anxiety and depression in subsequent pregnancies, with 22.5% reporting heightened anxiety compared to women with a previous live birth. 

These statistics highlight the critical need for comprehensive mental health support for bereaved parents. Recognizing the vital need in Israel to help heal hearts and restore hope, Yad Sarah offers specialized support for women coping with stillbirth and perinatal loss. At our unique center in Yad Sarah’s Yirmiyahu33 Rehabilitation and Wellness Hotel in Jerusalem, bereaved mothers receive a sanctuary of compassion and solace while dealing with profound loss. Our team of experienced experts provide emotional support and professional counseling to help them cope with their grief. We also assist with the medical and legal processes following a stillbirth, helping families navigate this challenging time.

The center also serves as a space where women can encounter other guests processing similar experiences, interactions which they say provides a vital sense of solidarity that can help ease the despair of feeling alone in their anguish. “I left in a completely different place emotionally than I came,” said “M”, who recently stayed at the center for four nights after losing her first child in stillbirth: “From the depths of sorrow, a newfound strength emerged to help me deal with my loss. It was a profound experience to find solidarity among the other women staying there. Only they can grasp the depth of sorrow and challenge that outsiders struggle to comprehend. We formed a type of sisterhood, and are still in contact.” 

In addition to this new center, we have for years provided several services to pregnant women, mothers and their new babies. We provide essential equipment and medical devices like baby cribs, breast pumps, baby scales, tens machines, and phototherapy units for jaundice treatment, all of which help new mothers manage their health and their babies’ health at home. Although it sounds simple, offering this equipment helps alleviate the stress of sourcing and purchasing necessary items, making the transition into motherhood smoother. This practical support reduces the mental load on new mothers, allowing them to focus more on bonding with their babies and less on logistical challenges. By easing these everyday burdens, we are constantly working to provide a more stable and supportive environment for both mother and child.

The journey of motherhood should be a joyous and fulfilling experience, but it’s crucial to recognize and address the challenges that so frequently arise during these periods of transition. At Yad Sarah, we’re here to provide the support and resources needed to help mothers and families navigate these challenges – during Maternal Mental Health Month and throughout the year. Our goal is to ensure that every mother in Israel receives the care and compassion they deserve.

About the Author
Philip Bendheim is a dedicated second-generation volunteer in the Yad Sarah family. He is a director of Yad Sarah's International Board of Overseers and USA Friends of Yad Sarah
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