Friday, March 22, 2013, the Regional Perinatal Centers of New York - a collaborative of 137 hospitals throughout NY who have met standards entitling them to this designation - held their annual nurses retreat at NY Presbyterian Hospital. Columbia PhD nursing candidate Joy Henderson RN, MSN, CPNP-PC, who currently manages this association, somehow found the time to organize and present a program that was an exceptional learning experience for representatives from these esteemed health care institutions.
It was honoring to open this gathering of nurse leaders with a talk about perinatal mood disorders and our need to identify depression throughout a woman's reproductive life. The constant nods and reactions from this group of dedicated professionals conveyed their experienced agreement.
Jane Ciaramella RN, MS presented her team's two year journey to implement screening and referral processes at White Plains Hospital - information that was eagerly received by the retreat participants. Jane has been educating, advocating and intervening for perinatal mental health for years! She shared a moving letter she had received from a woman who was so grateful to have had these services available to her - without which her birth experience could have been tragically different.
Mary Coughlin, RN, MS whose company Caring Essentials hails from Boston (complete with a "wicked awesome" Boston accent!) gave a riveting presentation on opportunities to increase physical and mental health outcomes for newborns in the NICU.
These littlest and most vulnerable patients are taking in every nuance, sound, touch, and smell. Their developing brains are ever vigilant awaiting that tender touch, look, voice and interaction from mom and caregivers thought to be CRITICAL in optimization of healthy neurobiological development.
To reduce the potential trauma of being separated from mom and subjected to sometimes intrusive NICU interventions, Mary has some excellent suggestions for the nurses charged with their care.
Did you know that while 19th century physicians understood that babies experience pain, many of their mid 20th century counterparts rejected this idea!
Not until 1970-80's was it re-established that babies not only experience pain, but can be more sensitive to it than adults! Prior to the current practice of administration of anesthesia for invasive processes or sugery, babies had only one option to tolerate such procedures - disassociation or complete catatonic shutdown which sometimes led to death. Perhaps this begins to explain an infant mortality rate that has taken decades to moderate.
With the renewed, indisputable knowledge provided by imaging and behavioral studies, research now proves that infants are exquisitely attuned to EVERYTHING in their environment and can develop symptoms of depression and dissociation when only weeks old.
Having a newborn who requires the services of the NICU has been associated with an increased risk for PPD. Up to 30 percent of families who go through this experience with their infants endure marital disruptions that can lead to separation and divorce.
The encouraging news is that there are many interventions which can moderate the potential emotionally and experientially traumatic effects of NICU stays for preemies and ill babies. Additionally, there are methods to support their visiting parents as they attempt to facilitiate critical bonding attachments in a life-saving, but unnatural healthcare environment.
The afternoon of the retreat was spent forming workgroups to address specific target areas where these interactions can be improved at their facilities. I left the meeting so thankful for the contributions of our colleagues, the dedicated nurses who are the outstanding front line managers of the birthing process and maternal mental health.
And of course, I brought a Jammies Jar with me to show the group this adorable product which helps fight postpartum depression. I encouraged them to consider offering Jammies in their hospital gift shops (and of course as a gift for the pregnant and new moms in their lives!) Jammies by Helene Laure last much longer than flowers and help raise funding for the kinds of programs and services that were the target of the day's discussions! There were plenty of "oohs and aahs" as the sweet little sample was passed around.
If you are planning a conference in the near future, I strongly suggest you contact Joy, Mary or Jane to present at your event. All of them are great speakers whose depth of knowledge and experience will galvanize your audience with crucial information. Thanks to Joy for a fantastic retreat!
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