Group aims to aid new mothers

Mother Helpers would assist women coping with life after giving birth.
Monday, August 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:33 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Child or infant abuse can sometimes stem from postpartum depression — mothers feeling sadness or anxiety after giving birth. But in Columbia, a support group called Mother Helpers is organizing to assist first-time mothers in need of emotional and physical support.

The time right after a woman gives birth is the most stressful. The mother is going through emotional changes and a hormonal withdrawal that can cause sudden depression, said Dr. Robert Harris, a pediatrician at Columbia Regional Hospital. In addition to the physical side effects of giving birth, the mother must devote all her time to the baby. Harris said many women do not have time to sleep, eat or shower because the baby takes so much of their time.

“This period of time can be difficult for the mother, especially if she is on her own,” Harris said.

That is why Harris wants to start a support group for new mothers who do not have support at home. At the first meeting on Thursday, Harris said the group wants to survey local doctors to see if they think there is a need for a Mother Helpers support group. If the response is what Harris expects, the group will create a system. Among the actions taken at the meeting was the establishment of the group’s goal as offering emotional and physical support for a new mother and her child.

Harris said he has two reasons for wanting to start Mother Helpers. One is the case of Andrea Yates, the Texas woman who drowned her five children. Harris thought these children could have been saved if their mother’s depression had been helped. Harris said Yates was a new mother who needed support.

His second reason stems from personal experience. Based on what he witnessed recently as part of the at-home process after his daughter gave birth, Harris thinks the group will be useful.

“This is a terrifically chaotic time for mothers,” Harris said. “A little support makes all the difference.”

Cindy Sherman, manager of the family birth center at Columbia Regional Hospital, also attended Thursday’s meeting. “As a mother myself, I understand your time is not your own anymore,” Sherman said.

Andee Gellatt is a retired pediatric occupational therapist who came to the meeting to make suggestions for Mother Helpers.

“At my church, there was a family-life group for young mothers,” Gellatt said. “The young mothers got together once a month to talk and if there is a new mother-to-be, they put together dinners and other things to help her settle in. But unfortunately, we don’t have that anymore.”

Harris has been a pediatrician for 43 years and said he wants to help new mothers who need it.

“If we can save one or two people, then this program is worth it,” he said.

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