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The Meaning of a PMH-C Therapist and Why You Should Find One Before Birth

Finding a therapist after birth is great, but finding a PMH-C-designated therapist is even better. Learn more about the meaning of PMH-C therapists and why you want one on your team.

If you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant, you may have questions about finding the best possible support as you navigate pregnancy and the transition to parenthood.

Maybe you want to get ahead of any potential mental health issues, or perhaps you have struggled with depression or anxiety. Either way, having the correct type of support in place is a wise decision.

If you find yourself among the one in approximately six women who experience a Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorder (PMAD), a PMH-C therapist can help.

What is a PMH-C Therapist?

A PMH-C therapist is a mental health therapist certified in treating maternal mental health issues. They have received specialized training in PMADs and are well-versed in accessing, screening, dining, and making appropriate referrals for those dealing with a potential PMAD.

The perinatal period (during pregnancy and after childbirth) is a unique and delicate time, and both maternal and infant well-being depends on prioritizing moms’ mental health. Providers with specialized training in maternal mental health are best equipped to identify the need for support and to make appropriate treatment recommendations.

Without proper training, mental health therapists (along with other providers) may not be well-suited to support pregnant and postpartum clients, resulting in misdiagnoses or suboptimal treatment for those facing PMADs.

My Story: Therapist turned PMH-C Therapist

I had been a mental health therapist for nearly a decade when I experienced postpartum anxiety (PPA) following the birth of my second baby. At the time, I’d never even heard of PPA. I knew what postpartum depression was, but I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t tearful, and I didn’t have a difficult time bonding with my new baby.

I initially dismissed my symptoms of confusion and overwhelmed, telling myself I must just be having a hard time adjusting to life with two kids versus one. 

When my symptoms escalated to scary and intrusive thoughts, I knew something wasn’t right, and I contacted my doctor for support. Luckily, she knew what was happening, and my PPA was quickly and appropriately addressed. 

The experience made me realize I needed to learn more about maternal mental health to continue providing therapy to women who may be planning to have children. While I was a licensed therapist, there was so much I didn’t know about the struggles parents can face during the perinatal period. 

Why specialized training matters in maternal mental health

Unfortunately, I’ve repeatedly seen that well-meaning providers not well-versed in PMADs (therapists, doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, etc.) do more harm than good in supporting patients/clients with PMADs. 

Many medical and psychiatric providers are lovely but don’t receive enough specific maternal mental health training. Too many struggling new parents slip through the cracks or receive the wrong type of medical advice/treatment.

As an example, consider a new mom with Postpartum OCD.

Postpartum OCD is a common PMAD, but it often shows up differently than we think of OCD in the general population.

Rather than displaying compulsive behaviors, such as excessive hand washing or obsessive checking to see if the stove is off, postpartum OCD typically includes relentless, intrusive thoughts around potential harm, especially toward the baby.

Learn more about the different types of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders in our Postpartum Mental Health Guide.

“What if I drop my baby down the stairs.”

“What if I can’t protect my baby?”

“When my baby cries, I have thoughts of throwing him against the wall.”

A provider lacking maternal mental health training might see this as highly concerning and, fearing harm, might send a mother with such thoughts to the Emergency Room when really, she needs mental health support for this very-treatable disorder.

I’ve worked with several new moms who were traumatized after being unnecessarily separated from their infants and admitted to psychiatric units by well-meaning but ultimately offbase providers who were not able to differentiate between Postpartum OCD (a non-urgent condition that can be treated through therapy and sometimes SSRI medications) and Postpartum Psychosis (a disorder that is a medical emergency, often requiring immediate intervention including hospitalization and antipsychotic medication). 

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What if I already have a therapist who isn’t PMH-C certified? 

If you have a long-standing relationship with a therapist, you probably don’t want to switch to somebody new upon finding out you’re pregnant or trying to conceive. And that’s okay.

But it’s worth asking your therapist if they have specific training in maternal mental health and whether they are willing to consult with a PMH-C as needed. 

I often have pregnant mamas contact me during pregnancy to establish a relationship and get ahead of any potential mood or anxiety struggles.

When they are working with another therapist, I’ll meet with them a handful of times to provide information or assess for PMADs as needed, then collaborate with their primary therapist for ongoing care. 

PMH-C therapists can also benefit from adjunctive services to those who have experienced birth traumas and loss. 

Ask for referrals or search the PSI directory to find somebody near you. There’s so much involved in planning for a new baby’s arrival, and options for the best possible mental health support should be a top priority. You may end up unaffected by PMADs, but have contacts readily available should you or your partner need them.

What’s required to become a PMH-C

Postpartum Support International officially standardized training and began offering certification in 2018.

To be eligible for accreditation, providers must:

  • Have a medical degree or
  • A graduate degree in psychotherapy or
  • A BA and a focus on an affiliated profession (lactation, nursing, childbirth services, etc.)

Additionally, providers looking for PMH-C accreditation must:

  • Have two years of work experience relevant to the perinatal population
  • Complete over 20 hours of comprehensive and in-depth training
  • Pass a certification exam

More information on PMH-C certification can be found at

Other resources you might find helpful

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