Postpartum mental health support bill sails out of committee 

By: - February 21, 2023 2:08 pm

From left to right: Dr. Ashley Belcher, a Louisville licensed clinical psychologist; Christina Libby, a Frankfort-area doula; and Sen. Shelley Funke Frommeyer, R-Alexandria. (KET screenshot)

This story discusses suicide and mental health. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.

FRANKFORT — A bill aimed at providing education and resources for new Kentucky parents sailed unanimously out of a committee Tuesday morning.  

Republican-sponsored Senate Bill 135 would “develop written information on postpartum depression” and make it widely available in labor and delivery hospitals, birthing centers and online. 

Additionally, it would require the use of assessment tools to screen for postpartum depression. 

“This bill really is to ensure greater access and information resources about perinatal mental health care,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Shelley Funke Frommeyer, R-Alexandria, told the Senate Standing Committee on Families and Children. 

I feel like as Americans we're so proud of our rugged individualism that we forget that soft and vulnerable community is especially necessary in a time of healing. And if the time after bringing a new baby into your life is anything, it's a time of healing, and not just for your body.

– Christina Libby, doula

Perinatal is the period of time from conception to one year after birth, according to Louisville psychologist Ashley Belcher. During that time, “there’s a vulnerability to mental health disorders.” 

“We do believe this is wide reaching and it really can be the difference between life and death for Kentucky mothers,” Funke Frommeyer said.  

Her testimony comes two weeks after a new state report showed at least 8.4% of Kentucky’s maternal deaths between 2017 and 2019 were from suicide and more than 90% of the state’s maternal deaths are preventable

“While it is true that pregnancy and postpartum are not illnesses, it is nevertheless a delicate time period which requires attention to care to promote the best outcomes,” testified Belcher. 

“Every year more than 400,000 infants are born to mothers who are depressed, which makes perinatal depression one of the most under diagnosed obstetric complications in the U.S.,” Belcher added. 

Dismal maternal mortality 

The commonwealth has a dismal maternal mortality rate. From 2018-2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 39.7 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births

A 2022 March of Dimes report showed deaths from pregnancy are increasing in the United States, which already has one of the highest maternal death rates among high-income countries.

The Kentucky Lantern previously reported around 900 women in the U.S. died from pregnancy-related issues in 2020, up 14% from 2019 and up a whopping 30% from 2018. 

Pregnancy is especially dangerous for Black Americans, who are three times more likely to die from pregnancy than white people, who are also more likely to have access to good prenatal care. 

Maternal deaths are rising. A 2021 report from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services showed Kentucky’s maternal deaths increasing from 45 in 2013 to 61 in 2019. 

‘A time of healing’

Christina Libby, a Frankfort-area doula, told legislators that perinatal support can save lives. 

After having her first child she found solace in a group of moms. That led her to start a support group as well. She also had “severe perinatal and postpartum depression” after the birth of her second son. 

“It’s hard to explain,” Libby testified, “how sitting in a circle with other new moms sipping tea and simply talking about how simultaneously glorious and horrid new parenthood can be can save a person, but it did.” 

She said SB135 “puts the right people at the table to facilitate that healing on a societal level.” 

“I feel like, as Americans, we’re so proud of our rugged individualism that we forget that soft and vulnerable community is especially necessary in a time of healing,” Libby said. “And if the time after bringing a new baby into your life is anything, it’s a time of healing, and not just for your body.” 


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Sarah Ladd
Sarah Ladd

Sarah Ladd is a Louisville-based journalist from West Kentucky who's covered everything from crime to higher education. She spent nearly two years on the metro breaking news desk at The Courier Journal. In 2020, she started reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and has covered health ever since. As the Kentucky Lantern's health reporter, she focuses on mental health, LGBTQ+ issues, children's welfare, COVID-19 and more.