Helping Mothers and Babies Form Healthy Relationships
Posted by Eda Spielman
Approximately 15 to 20% of women experience postpartum depression (PPD) or anxiety, which can negatively impact the mother-baby relationship and child development. The Center for Early Relationship Support (CERS) of Jewish Family & Children’s Service created the Early Connections program because we believed that treating mothers with PPD and their infants together would be most effective at reducing postpartum depression/anxiety and supporting a healthy mother-baby relationship. We have a steadfast belief in this important work, but we also have many questions to consider. How do we know that Early Connections is effective? What evidence do we have for evaluating our programs? How do we integrate research into our services in ways that respect our clients and are not burdensome to our staff?
We have built a relationship with the Boston University School of Social Work (BUSSW), through faculty member Ruth Paris, to help us explore and begin to test these questions. The pilot research on Early Connections was focused on better understanding our work with postpartum mothers and their babies, through both the mothers’ own feedback on the service and various measures.
The Infant Mental Health Journal, the leading international publication on infant/early childhood mental health, recently published an article, Evaluating a Home-Based Dyadic Intervention: Changes in Postpartum Depression, Maternal Perceptions, and Mother-Infant Interactions, that I co-authored with Ruth and Rendelle Bolton, which highlights some of the findings from this pilot project. These findings show that EC positively impacts mother’s mood and feelings of confidence, as well as her interactions with her baby, lending support to the key premise of Early Connections that successful treatment of postpartum depression needs to involve the baby in order to truly focus on the mother-baby relationship.
In addition to this article, we have been able to present on our research collaboration with BUSSW at regional and international conferences. Our work with Ruth has shown us both the rewards and the challenges of collaboration between clinical services and research. We have come to believe strongly in the importance of integrating evaluation into our work while also seeing the limitations. We have found it exciting to involve a research team in our clinical work at CERS, helping us ask relevant questions about what we are doing, pushing us to build evidence for our beliefs in the value of our work, and giving us avenues for spreading the word.
Eda Spielman is the Clinical Director of the Center for Early Relationship Support (CERS) and a member of the Faculty of the Infant-Parent Training Institute. She developed the Early Connections program in 1998 in response to the needs within CERS for therapeutic home visiting services for families struggling with emotional challenges in the early parenting period. Eda has worked as a psychologist with specialized focus on parental and early childhood mental health for many years and has a longstanding interest in how to bring theory and research on early development to broad audiences of practitioners and parents. She received her PsyD degree from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology and went on to teach a clinical seminar there in the 1990s.