Peer support workers are a new—but growing—way mothers can get the mental health help they need

When Maranda Bower first became a mother in 2009, she says she was wholly unprepared for the shock of the life change. Away from the support system she had previously relied on in life, social isolation fed symptoms of depression—and vice-versa.

"So much of the work of learning to be a mother is done behind closed doors," says Bower, now a postpartum bliss coach. "Instead of learning from the women around me, I was shut up into darkness and left to figure it out how to care for my body and my newborn alone."

Bower is hardly the only woman to feel that void, and she is now among the many women filling it as peer support professionals. Because if there is a silver lining to the prevalence of maternal mental health conditions, it is that there are thousands of women nationwide who are well-positioned to provide support, advice and encouragement that pulls from their own experiences.

Peer support professionals are women who have lived experiences in struggling with maternal mental health conditions and are trained to help others. It's an evidence-based practice recognized by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service. In some countries this service is provided by mothers recruited by health care professionals to work as Peer Support Workers within the health system, but independent postpartum doulas, support groups and peer support coaches are also recognized forms of peer support for maternal mental health.

According to Motherly's Second Annual State of Motherhood Survey, the greatest segments of moms reported their "physical or mental health" is the area in life where they need the most support. Yet, traditional options for maternal mental health care are psychiatric or intensive talk therapy—which have their benefits, but only if women are able to access them. However, between actual "mental health support deserts" and other cost or time constraints, studies show the majority of perinatal mood disorders go untreated.

Aiming to address that, a new push would expand support for peer specialists who can fill professional service gaps, which would essentially create the "village" that mothers have recognized the importance of for generations. Starting in 2001, states began to make these relationships official by offering certifications for peer support specialists; as of 2016, there were more than 25,000 certified peer support specialists nationwide who are eligible to receive reimbursement from Medicaid.

"While therapy is an invaluable resource, for many women it is not enough, including myself," says Ann Kaplan, a mom of four and parent coach, who adds it was invaluable to see "what motherhood could be when I was supported, educated and validated" through other mothers' examples. That experience, in turn, informed Kaplan's three-prong approach to helping other moms find strategies for mental health, family management and parenting skills.

The positive impact of peer support is seen on multiple levels. Not only do statistics show that peer services cut hospitalizations in half and increase engagement in self-care, but using peer services in treatment has also been demonstrated to save states more than $5,000 per person.

Recognizing the power here, officials from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) within the Department of Health and Human Services are calling "for using peer support specialists to help address shortages in the behavioral health workforce," according to a 2018 report issued to congressional committees.

Yet, even this has been met with some resistance. In 2017, the Peer Support Specialist Act, which would have improved financing and certification practices for peer support specialists, failed to pass in Congress. Increased funding is again on the table under the Mothers and Offspring Mortality and Morbidity Awareness Act, or MOMMA's Act, which was introduced to Congress in March 2019 and would offer grant money to support "maternal mental health."

A push to expand peer support programs is catching a bit more traction on state levels, such as in Colorado where legislators are due to consider a new bill that would further professionalize and expand access to peer support specialists. By improving access to programs that complement other subsets of health care, we are getting closer to offering the varied, destigmatized support that every mother deserves. Because, if there is one thing we can all agree on, it should be this: Women should have more support as they navigate the transition into motherhood—and the more qualified professionals who are able to help, the better.

To find peer support resources in your area ask your doctor or midwife. Some hospitals in the Unites States offer support groups and telephone counseling with trained peer support coaches. You can also use the map on the Postpartum Support International website to find peer support services in your state.

Without camps and back-to-school plans still TBD, the cries of "I'm bored!" seem to be ringing louder than ever this summer. And if you're anything like me, by August, I'm fresh out of boxes to check on my "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys.

With that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite wooden toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.


Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!


Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.


Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.


Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.


Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.


Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


When it comes to getting a good night's sleep, there are many factors that, as a mama, are hard to control. Who's going to wet the bed at 3 am, how many times a small person is going to need a sip of water, or the volume of your partner's snoring are total wildcards.

One thing you can control? Tricking out your bed to make it as downright cozy as possible. (And in these times, is there anywhere you want to be than your bed like 75% of the time?)

I've always been a down comforter sort of girl, but after a week of testing the ridiculously plush and aptly named Snug Comforter from Sunday Citizen, a brand that's run by "curators of soft, seekers of chill" who "believe in comfort over everything," it's safe to say I've been converted.

Keep reading Show less

Pop culture might lead us to believe that single people are having all the good sex and us married folks are lucky to get anything at all. But, for a lot of couples, sex gets better after a walk down the aisle.

I'll put it like this: The escapades I had before my husband were a lot like fast food—quick and unsatisfying. On the other hand, married sex is like having a five-star, live-in chef. So, why is it so hard to sell the idea married people are having the best sex of their lives?

Keep reading Show less
Love + Village