NEW YORK (PIX11) — How can a mother harm or even kill her child? It is the question many are asking after a mother is suspected of drowning her three kids on Coney Island Monday. The tragic death of the children puts a spotlight on maternal mental health. 

The 30-year-old mother’s mental health is a focus of the investigation. She allegedly said she suffered from postpartum depression and has undergone psychiatric evaluation at the hospital.

Dr. Catherine Birndorf, a reproductive psychiatrist and medical director of the Motherhood Center in New York, said pregnancy and motherhood can take a toll on a woman’s emotional health. Combined with hormonal changes, it can trigger a mental illness that often goes undiagnosed and untreated.

“The shame and guilt that you feel when it’s not going perfectly, or you don’t feel like yourself,” said Dr. Birndorf. “And you don’t want to tell anyone because you feel like a failure. But you’re not a failure.”

Dr. Birndorf started the center five years ago after noticing a gap in care for women after they leave the hospital for home. They offer group, individual and family therapy to help women with the transition. It is the only center of its kind in our region. She said the lack of support is a big part of the problem. Maternal suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the first year after a woman gives birth. 

She said one in five women suffer from postpartum depression and anxiety but added that postpartum psychosis, which the mother in the drownings is being evaluated for, is rarer and more severe. It affects one to two out of 1,000 women. It’s usually bipolar illness that is not recognized and is more common in women with a family history of bipolar illness. But how can you tell the difference between postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis?

“You’re not sleeping, eating, concentrating, have any energy. Those are four symptoms of depression, but they are also for states of being after having a baby,” said the doctor. “Psychosis is a loss of touch with reality. Someone’s not acting like themselves. That’s always a red flag.”

Moms often have the most challenging time expressing the changes they’re going through, so family and friends need to be vigilant to help get them support, Dr. Dirndoff told PIX11 News.

“If we don’t acknowledge that there’s a problem with this transition to motherhood, that it is not just bliss and easy and natural and that everybody gets it and should be good at it,” the doctor added.

Last year, the city’s Health Department began offering home-visiting services for first-time parents and infants for low-income families who qualify and a nurse-family partnership for first-time mothers.

Any mom or loved one looking for Help can call the new National Maternal Mental Health Hotline at 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS. You can also call the suicide and crisis number at 988.