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UNC project aims to change the culture of care for new moms

Although new moms often face multiple social, physical, and mental health challenges as well as unrealistic expectations about motherhood and their new babies, research has shown that many do not receive sufficient support during the postpartum period. However, UNC’s “4th Trimester Project,” is working to fill these gaps in care and improve outcomes for mothers, infants, and families.

Directed by an interdisciplinary team of faculty from UNC’s Center for Maternal and Infant Health (CMIH) and from the School of Social Work’s Jordan Institute for Families, the project brings together new mothers, health care providers, researchers, public health professionals, community leaders, and other stakeholders from across the nation to identify unmet postpartum health needs, build knowledge, and create sustainable, scalable solutions for change.

“Essentially, we want to improve the health and well-being of new parents, particularly in that early period of time after the arrival of a baby,” said Sarah Verbiest, CMIH executive director and Jordan Institute director, and clinical associate professor at the UNC School of Social Work. “Making that shift requires a culture change, a resourcing change, and change in health care. Our team wants nothing less than to change the way America treats new mothers.”

At the heart of this project is the creation and launch of a women-designed, national online information hub – a central website where new mothers and their families can find immediate access to support and answers to postpartum issues, such as fatigue, breastfeeding difficulties, depression, frequent headaches, incontinence and lack of sexual desire. Although these issues can be common among new moms, many never discuss them with their health providers, in part, because 20 to 40 percent do not receive follow up care from their physicians for a postpartum visit.

These discussions are further complicated because the country’s health care system generally focuses on the well-being of the infant rather than the mother or mother-infant dyad, Verbiest said.

“Women also are so passionately focused on keeping this young little being alive and on reaching the myth of the ‘perfect mom,’ that they instinctively put their children first and often deflect attention away from any problems they may be having,” she said. “We’ve also heard that women are afraid of expressing depression or mood disorders for fear of losing their babies or being seen as inadequate mothers.”

The project received startup funding from the Global Health Foundation in September. The project team, which includes CMIH partners Alison Stuebe, Kristin Tully, and Suzanne Woodward; Amelia Gibson with the School of Information and Library Science; and Venus Standard with UNC Family Physicians, is currently working to secure additional funding. The goal is to launch the website on Mother’s Day 2019.

Verbiest and the research partners view this launch as the start of a “new mom-centered care revolution.” The movement’s efforts will include ensuring that new mothers have access to a variety of evidence-based resources, giving women the flexibility to choose what works best for them, Verbiest said.

Long-term, the goal is to change the culture of care for new mothers, Verbiest added.

“What we’re trying to do is build a sustainable movement to transform lives,” she said.

For more information on the 4th Trimester Project, go to: