Having a new baby is a life-changing experience and no one can prepare you for the changes your body and hormones will undergo. During pregnancy and beyond, you can’t always fall back on the coping mechanisms you once relied on, especially if they involve alcohol or substance use.
Different substances have different effects, says Anna Dillaway, licensed social worker and Women’s Specialty Services Coordinator with Oakland Community Health Network (OCHN). “In general, using a substance can impair your judgment and decision making. This can lead you to be in an environment to make unsafe choices for yourself or for your baby,” she says.
Still, no one disputes the challenges new parents face during those first few weeks and months with their newborn. “Your body is undergoing so many changes,” Dillaway says. “You’re experiencing little sleep and learning how to manage stress in different ways. There may or may not be supports there for you and now you are balancing your needs and someone else’s needs, too.”
Among those who previously used substances, the postpartum time brings a higher risk for relapse, says Dillaway. And, relapse can lead to overdose. “An individual’s body isn’t at the same level of tolerance as it once was, and we know that fentanyl is out there and the rates of use are increasing. Relapse is a general overall concern, but it can also lead to overdose,” she says.
The U.S. Population Reference Bureau reports that between 2015-19, drug- and alcohol-related death rates among pregnant and recently pregnant women increased sharply — faster than the rate among women of childbearing age in general.
Accessing no-judgment support
The challenges of the difficult postpartum period is one of the reasons OCHN has a strong focus on women’s support, therapy and care coordination. New mothers need alternate coping methods and no-judgment support.
“We need to help women develop a support network, people in the same space and a place to talk and build support,” Dillaway says. Additional coping measures include therapy, a hobby or other activity or support from a partner so they can have 10 minutes to take a walk.
“Talking with your doctor to see if medication can help manage postpartum depression, which we are familiar with, but postpartum anxiety as well,” she says. It’s a positive step to seek professional help from a doctor or women’s specialty services such as Oakland Family Services for outpatient care or Sacred Heart for withdrawal management.
People who engage in treatment have higher rates of recovery, says Dillaway. That first step is knowing where to go for help.
Reach out to OCHN’s Access line at 248-464-6363 to connect with resources for support, including substance use or mental health screenings for adults and children. Within the OCHN provider network, women’s specialty services are offered as outpatient or residential services. Successful recovery for women integrates substance use disorder treatment, mental health services, recovery supports, even treatment for past traumatic events.
OCHN leads a provider service network that assists approximately 27,000 Oakland County citizens at more than 300 service sites across the county. People who receive public mental health services through OCHN’s provider network include those who have an intellectual or developmental disability, mental health challenge or substance use disorder.
OCHN’s goal is to ensure individuals are aware of and have access to services and supports that will improve their health and quality of life, as well as ensure their engagement in full community participation. Its mission to “inspire hope, empower people and strengthen communities” reflects an unyielding belief in a “Valuable System for Valued People.” Programs and supports provided by OCHN’s service network are available at oaklandchn.org.