Jennifer Barkin, Mercer University – Measuring How New Mothers Are Functioning

On Mercer University Week:  A test to determine how new mothers are functioning is here.

Jennifer Barkin, associate professor of community medicine and obstetrics, details how it measures the functioning of new mothers.

Dr. Jennifer Barkin is an associate professor of community medicine and obstetrics and gynecology at Mercer University School of Medicine. A psychiatric epidemiologist by training, her research is focused on Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) and on the assessment of postpartum maternal functioning. As part of her doctoral research, she developed the Barkin Index of Maternal Functioning (BIMF), a 20-item self-report measure of functional status in the postpartum period. The instrument has been translated into more than 20 languages and is being used in industry-sponsored trials, and clinical, academic and community-based settings.

Measuring How New Mothers Are Functioning

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New mothers can often feel like the difficulties of childbirth and managing multiple roles in the postpartum period – including mother, partner, employee, daughter and citizen – are oversimplified or inappropriately diminished.   While their companions might marvel at how their partner juggles it all after recently going through natural labor or a cesarean section, this complex physical, mental and emotional adjustment is fraught with challenges.

Motherhood is a complicated balancing act that begins after childbirth and continues throughout parenthood.   The need for a measure that quantifies new mothers’ daily functioning in the postpartum period served as the impetus for the development of the Barkin Index of Maternal Functioning.  The creation of this 20-item self-report measure was the primary aim of my doctoral research and allows us to understand how well women are managing their myriad responsibilities and taking care of themselves concurrently. The questionnaire items assess one or more of seven core functional domains that were identified in focus group discussions with new mothers. Social support, management, mother-child bonding, psychological well-being, infant care, self-care and adjustment are covered within the Barkin Index. The tool should be used with – not in place of – assessment for postnatal anxiety and depression.

Over the past decade, the measure’s been used for commercial research, and in clinical, community-based and academic settings.  In fact, the Barkin Index was utilized as an outcomes measure in the clinical trial for Zulresso, the FDA breakthrough and first-ever medication specifically for postpartum depression.  Currently, I am working with researchers in Italy, Iran, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UK to validate the measure for use in their countries.   Globally, about one in seven women are affected by postnatal depression or anxiety, and we need to collectively mobilize behind effective screening tools and treatments. 

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