PEORIA — UnityPoint Health now has a licensed clinical social worker certified by Postpartum Support International to help patients suffering from postpartum depression and related conditions.

Melissa Millinger is the first professional in central Illinois, and one of only 30 in the state, to receive a certification in Perinatal Mental Health through Postpartum Support International. The certification is awarded after extensive training and examination. Postpartum Support International is a recognized organization leading training and standardizing practices in postpartum depression and related conditions. Several more UnityPoint Health maternal care team members are in process to receive PMH-C.

“Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders are the number one complication of childbirth and the least treated and discussed condition. One out of every five women will experience a postpartum mood and anxiety disorder,” said Millinger. “There’s a lack of resources. My goal is to use my certification to help create services in both UnityPoint Health and the community with multidisciplinary providers and professionals providing collaborative care to grow our local resources and increase the number of medical professionals certified to support and treat moms.”

Millinger will also be educating and counseling moms suffering from postpartum mood and anxiety disorder.

“I want to help moms understand it’s not their fault. It can be very isolating. Society tells women that this is a joyous occasion and if she is not feeling that, it can be painful,” she said. “Every mom has a different postpartum experience. It isn’t simply post-birth, disorders can develop at any time during pregnancy up to the first year.”

It’s normal to experience baby blues up to two weeks after birth. Hormones, adjusting to motherhood, sleep deprivation, and shifting relationships cause anxiety. If symptoms of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders continue after two weeks post birth, it’s important to seek medical attention.

Symptoms include depression, withdrawal from baby and family, crying, dramatic sleep pattern change, anxiety, obsessive compulsive behaviors, irritability, overprotectiveness, anger, hallucinations, unwanted scary thoughts, lowered interest in eating and personal hygiene.

Millinger’s first step in increasing local certified PMH-C professionals includes a Climb Out of Darkness walk on Sept. 15 at the Peoria riverfront to raise maternal mental health awareness and funds. Donations will be funding scholarships to attract medical professionals in central Illinois for training, education and certification in maternal mental health.

“I’m proud of my work because I’m not just treating mom. I’m looking after two people, because baby is also very important in this process. These children will be happier and healthier," she said. “My focus is giving these families a safe space they can come to talk about their concerns and provide them with the resources they need to overcome.”