Mothers, maternal health advocates gather to support Postpartum Depression Awareness Act

Bill passes House unanimously

Harrisburg, June 10 – A bill that would increase awareness of perinatal and postpartum depression and treatment options was a topic of discussion today as mothers and maternal health advocates rallied with members of the House on the bill’s importance and the House passed it.

Introduced by state Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Phila., Gina Curry, D-Delaware, and Lisa Borowski, D- Delaware, H.B. 2127 would empower the Department of Health to create a public awareness campaign to inform Pennsylvanians about the symptoms and effects of PPD. It also would direct the department to centralize access to organizations that provide counseling for PPD on their website and on fact sheets available in doctor’s offices.

“New mothers deserve to feel supported, not alone, in the time before and after a new baby arrives. Our current lack of resources for perinatal depression effectively strips new mothers of agency in understanding their mental health,” Fiedler said. “Having widely available education materials on these conditions will empower new parents to support themselves and their babies. All women and pregnant people deserve the opportunity to prioritize their health, whether that means access to miscarriage management medication, abortion, or counselling for postpartum depression.”

Fiedler said that PPD is distinct from what some call “baby blues,” feelings of sadness or anxiety that only last a few days or weeks. It is a longer-lasting, more severe type of depression. According the Health Department, “Mental health conditions, which include substance use, was the leading cause of death for both pregnancy-related and pregnancy-associated but not related cases.”

Curry said that despite affecting more than 1 in 8 new mothers, widespread stigma and lack of education means many parents never get the mental health care they deserve. By creating a public awareness campaign, H.B. 2127 would reduce the stigma many new mothers feel by empowering them to make informed health decisions that benefit themselves and their babies, including pursuing treatment options like counseling.

“Postpartum depression is a scary disorder. It becomes even more frightening when left unchecked and undiagnosed,” Curry said. “In order to live up to our promise to protect mothers through the entire birthing process and beyond, we need to ensure that new mothers know that there is help for them if they are struggling after giving birth to their child. I am proud to co-sponsor this legislation so that we can help new mothers understand every part of their birthing journey, leading to a happier and healthy lives all across the Commonwealth.”

"The health of the mother is directly tied to the well-being of the family. As a young mother, I can remember feeling overwhelmed and sometimes hopeless,” Borowski said. “We need to help women put a name on these feelings, know it is normal, and connect them with the best options for support. Because postpartum depression can affect even the most seasoned mother.”

Other mothers attended the rally and shared their experiences with postpartum depression. They echoed the need for education around the condition.

"Thirteen years ago, during my first pregnancy, I suffered tremendously and was overwhelmed by what I now know was postpartum depression, anxiety and psychosis once my baby arrived. I felt like an awful parent, plagued by intrusive thoughts, and lacked the words to describe my emotions, feeling trapped and isolated. This experience drove me to become a doula, as I never wanted anyone else to face such a struggle alone; I always say I decided to become what I didn't have,” said Alexia Doumbouya, a mother, certified doula and the president of Cocolife.Black.

"As a seasoned perinatal mental health specialist and a mother of three young children, I intimately understand the challenges that new mothers face, particularly when navigating the postpartum period with limited support. I've witnessed the profound impact of perinatal mood disorders on both mothers and their families,” said Jummy Kirby, mother and owner of Relinquish and Transcend Counseling and Consulting. “By strategically sharing knowledge and implementing proactive intervention measures, we can transform the postpartum experience into one characterized by courage, perseverance, and profound healing."

House Bill 2127 is part of the PA Black Maternal Health Caucus’ “Momnibus” legislative package. The eight bills in the package are united around a vision to directly confront the staggering rate of Black maternal mortality and morbidity in Pennsylvania. They range from expanding Medicaid coverage for doula services, requiring private insurance coverage of blood pressure cuffs for new parents, distributing “welcome baby kits” to some new mothers, and more.

Curry said that research shows that Black mothers are highly susceptible to depression and anxiety, due in part to economic disparities and racism. Combatting this trend means making sure Black parents have the opportunity to learn and receive the resources they need to take care of their mental health when they visit the doctor. This bill is designed to increase awareness for all new mothers at the doctor’s office—regardless of race, ZIP code or income.

“In Pennsylvania, many women experience mental health challenges during pregnancy and the postpartum period. What’s more alarming is individuals who experience racial or economic inequities, are more likely to experience maternal mental health conditions, but less likely to get help,” said Melissa Patti, director of maternal and infant health for March of Dimes. “In Pennsylvania, March of Dimes is supporting the passage of H.B. 2127 and efforts to increase awareness and connection to resources on perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.”

The bill has the support of maternal and reproductive health organizations including March of Dimes, Maternity Care Coalition, the Pennsylvania American College of Nurse-Midwives, and Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates.

“I am so happy and relieved to see this bill making progress. Maternal mental health care is paramount to a healthy family unit. As we look for solutions to the maternal health crisis in our country, repairing our current system where there is a lack of mental health screening and services is one critical step to turn the tides on these poor outcomes,” said Emily C. McGahey, clinical director and midwife with the Midwife Center, as well as the legislative chair for the Pennsylvania Association of Certified Nurse-Midwives.

House Bill 2127 passed the House unanimously. It now awaits Senate consideration.