Hot Car Death and Post Partum Depression; Interview with Shari-ann James, PHD, PMH-C

The incidence of hot car death and the cause of vehicular heatstroke were the reasons we founded Signs that Save. Hot Car Death is completely preventable and there is a certain stigma around it and shame for mothers who accidentally forget their children in the car. Part of our mission is the take the stigma away and really encourage parents to give themselves little reminders that are added layers of protection against preventable deaths and injuries. We are excited to share this incredibly insightful interview with Shari-ann James, a licensed psychologist on postpartum depression, on memory and parenthood.


1. Our Hot Car Death Campaign is designed to offer caregivers an added layer of protection via visual cues, since your area of research is around postpartum symptoms, what would you say is the likelihood of a new mother to be at less than full memory capacity? 

As women transition into motherhood, there are a lot of physical and psychological changes that come with it. Within the first 2 weeks most women, approximately 80%, experience the baby blues which can lead to increased sadness, fatigue and anxiety. If it persists beyond the 2-week postpartum period, a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder for example postpartum depression should be considered. New mothers are juggling a lot of responsibilities; taking care of a newborn, older kids, the household, career etc. They may be experiencing sleep deprivation and are overwhelmed with a variety of emotions, and this can lead to a lack of focus and concentration and a heightening of emotions.



  • 2. What are the symptoms or an easy way to gauge postpartum fatigue and mental health concerns related to postpartum? 
  • A cluster of symptoms can be present which include; weepiness, irritability, anxiety, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, excessive guilt, difficulty concentrating, obsessive thoughts, panic, feelings of sadness, hopelessness, thoughts of death and general fatigue. These symptoms may manifest in thoughts such as: “I’m a bad mother”, “no one understands”, “I’m never going to feel like myself again” and “I thought I would be handling motherhood better”.



  • 3. What do you recommend to ward it off? Or what types of strategies or coping skills do new moms find helpful?
  • Having a birth plan can be helpful. For all women and families, especially for those who are at risk for emotional challenges, should be encouraged to maintain adequate rest, sleep, movement and proper nutrition. They should also seek social support as well as minimize stress and obligations. Creating a postpartum support plan can also be beneficial. Obtain accurate information about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and treatment and support available in your community. Strategies that new moms may find beneficial are engaging in psychotherapy, medication management, joining a mom support group, and continuation of open lines of communication with partners, close friends and family.


  • 4. Do people who have adopted infants or non-maternal primary caregivers experience symptoms of postpartum? 
  • There are many incidents where non-gestational parents experience emotional challenges during the postpartum period. Post Adoption Depression Syndrome (PADS) most often impacts adoptive mothers but is also common in fathers, partners and occasionally siblings. PADS result in a depressive state of the adoptive parent after placement of the new child into their home. Studies have also reported that 10% of new fathers experience moderate to severe depression. Maternal depression has been shown to increase the risk of paternal depression and is the strongest predictor of paternal depression even beyond the father’s own history of depression. (Paulson et al, 2006; Paulson & Bazemore, 2010). It is important to recognize that non-gestational parents are also at risk for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and need support.  (Postpartum Support International, 2019)


  • 5. How can partners and family members support new full-time caregivers? 
  • In many cases a close family member is the first to notice signs of distress. It is important for parents and family members to share with the person in distress that they are here to support them. If partners and family members notice changes in caregiver’s personality/ behavior, it is important to provide the space for them to talk about what they are going through. It is important to provide a space for caregivers to speak without judgment. If someone is experiencing an emotional challenge during the perinatal period they can retreat into silence if they feel judged for the thoughts and feelings they are experiencing. It is also important for caregivers to know that they are not alone. Emotional challenges can impact many women and men and with help they can feel better. Close family members can also take initiative to help the postpartum parent find a mental health professional trained in treating these emotional concerns.


  • 6. If you could offer one piece of advice to new parents, what would it be? 
  • Don’t be hard on yourself and find support in a co-parent or close friend or family. You are not the first person to have a baby, there is a wealth of experience out there.


  • 7. How do you feel our reminder stickers may be helpful for the new parent?
  • Your reminder stickers encourage us to be mindful of safety in the midst of parental fog and exhaustion.



    Paulson J.F., Dauber S., Leiferman J.A. (2006). Individual and combined effects of postpartum depression in mothers and fathers on parenting behavior. Pediatrics, 118: 659 – 668.

    Paulson, J. & Bazemore, S. (2010). Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression: a meta-analysis. JAMA, 303(19):1961-1969.

    Postpartum Support International (2019). Perinatal Mood Disorders: Components of Care (PowerPoint slides).


    If you would like to reach out to Shari-ann, please contact her at 
    Shari-ann H. James, PhD, PMH-C
    Certified Perinatal Mental Health Professional
    Perinatal Wellness & Psychological Services