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Mother, Baby and Me: Dr. Elizabeth LaRusso

Meet Dr. Elizabeth LaRusso, a perinatal and reproductive health psychiatrist.

As a perinatal and reproductive health psychiatrist, what are some of the conditions you treat? The term “perinatal and reproductive psychiatrist” really means that I specialize in treating women for conditions that are related to the reproductive cycle. Currently, I focus mostly on pregnant and postpartum women. The conditions I treat commonly include depression and anxiety during pregnancy, postpartum depression and anxiety, as well as bipolar disorder and at times, psychosis during and after pregnancy. I love to do pre-conception evaluations, meaning that I see women who have a history of psychiatric illness or are taking psychiatric medications and are planning to become pregnant. The goal here is for women to be well-informed about the treatment options during pregnancy and the postpartum period, and to generate an individualized plan to help promote emotional health during and after pregnancy. I also evaluate women who have premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) as well as emotional issues related to menopause.

Are you seeing any trends in perinatal and reproductive health right now? If so, what are they? Currently, I believe that there is much more emphasis on identifying and treating postpartum depression than there has been in the past. Psychiatry, OB/GYN, family medicine, and pediatrics are all looking for novel ways to integrate mental health screening and treatment into their practices, as there are many barriers to women accessing psychiatric care at mental health clinics.

What general advice do you have for pregnant or new moms? I believe that pregnancy and the postpartum period are among the times that women are most highly scrutinized, by physicians, by society at large, and often by other women. Women may feel negatively judged or inadequate in their maternal role, and many women deprioritize their own needs in their efforts to focus exclusively on the wellbeing of their fetus/infant. I think that women would benefit from knowing that taking care of themselves, including getting adequate rest, exercise, support, and asking for help when needed, is one of the most important parts of being an effective mother. Mothers play an essential role in the family, and if the mother is not functioning well, the family cannot function well. Many women may think that they have to “do it all” or have wishes to be “perfect.” While this is normal and understandable, especially because of all of the cultural and societal pressures put on women, it is impossible and unsustainable. If women can understand that they need to care for themselves in order to care for their children, and at times this will mean lowering standards or asking for help, then they will not only experience less distress but also will be modeling for their children a mature and balanced approach to the conflicting demands of modern life.

What drew you to The Mother Baby Center? The opportunity to be involved in the Mother Baby clinical service line and to help integrate psychiatry into OB/GYN is a very exciting one that I feel very fortunate to be involved in. Allina Health and Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota have exhibited a strong commitment to improving the emotional health of pregnant women and new mothers, and I am thrilled at the opportunity to help to shape a system that better addresses the needs of these women.

What do you enjoy most about your job? What I enjoy most about my job is the variety. I am able to practice clinical psychiatry, to form relationships with women, and to be a part of helping them navigate difficult emotional terrain. At the same time I have the chance to shape the development of a larger system of care that will ultimately be able to help more women and support the Mother Baby commitment to improved mental health care for all mothers.

Do you have questions for Dr. LaRusso, too? Send them to [email protected] by May 7, and we’ll pick a few for Dr. LaRusso to answer here on the Great Beginnings blog. 

Do you have a suggestion for a Mother Baby employee who should be profiled in Mother, Baby and Me? Send your ideas to [email protected]