Health of babies is dependent on physical and emotional health of moms

by Hennepin Healthcare

Dr. Helen Kim

Just in time for Mother’s Day,  an essay published in JAMA this week  authored by Dr. Helen Kim from HCMC  shines a light on mothers with mental illness and their children.  This essay describes the dilemma well-meaning healthcare providers create by telling mothers with depression that taking medication to help themselves will harm their babies.  As the essay describes, the health of babies is dependent on the physical and emotional health of their mothers.

Research shows that infants and very young children are particularly vulnerable when living with a depressed or mentally ill parent.  In these young children – ages zero to 3 – stress regulatory systems and brain development are impacted by a depressed caregiver.  This sets the stage for social and emotional problems in children and lowers the possibility for success in all realms of life.

“Depression in parents – both mothers and fathers – undermines healthy development in children and sets them on a trajectory for problems down the road,” explains Dr. Kim.  “But when depressed mothers are treated, they are calmer and more responsive to their infants.  The quality of these day-to-day interactions between caregiver and baby are crucial for healthy brain development in children.”

The research is clear — healthier moms make for healthier babies and children.   To support this mother-baby relationship, Dr. Kim is leading an effort to create the HCMC Parent Baby Program which will include a Mother-Baby Day Hospital and a mental health support line for pregnant women and parents of young children.

“The hope is that these programs will support healthy parenting practices and foster healthy mother-baby attachment to support the development of children and break the poverty-depression/anxiety-neglect/maltreatment cycle that many impoverished and at risk families experience,” says Dr. Kim.

Dr. Kim is the Director of the Hennepin Women’s Mental Health Program. With the support of a Bush Fellowship, she has focused on improving the breadth and quality of perinatal mental health care in Minnesota and developing an integrative model of mental health care for pregnant and postpartum women. Her interests also include perinatal psychopharmacology, maternal-infant health, psychodynamic psychotherapy, and improving access to mental health care for underserved mothers and families. She trained at Massachusetts General Hospital and is now a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota.

Read Dr. Kim’s entire essay at