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The Earliest, a New Podcast from ZERO TO THREE

The Earliest takes a deep and personal look into mental health in the earliest years of life.

We’ve all seen the news headlines, and many of us are experiencing the impact firsthand of the unprecedented mental health crisis among people of all ages and walks of life. During Mental Health Awareness Month, we invite you to a safe space to listen, reflect, and connect with a topic that matters to everyone.

Join host Ernestine Benedict and early childhood expert, doula, and mother Elizabeth Pihlaja as we explore pregnancy, birth, trauma, and mental health and well-being in the earliest years of life – the years that matter most. Because who we become starts even before birth.

You’ll also hear from guest experts Kathy Mulrooney and Jen Boss, discussing what’s working, what’s not, and where we go from here.


Trailer: The Earliest


Episode 1: From Womb to World

In the opening episode of The Earliest, we explore the moment of passage from womb to world: birth. We get personal with Elizabeth about her own traumatic birth experience. We hear from Elizabeth and experts about what went right, what didn’t, and how it all could’ve been better.


Episode 2: What Comes Before

We explore the impact a mother’s mental health can have on a child during pregnancy. We hear more from our experts, and follow Elizabeth’s journey from childhood to her daughter’s birth. A journey where the adversity she’s faced has made her stronger, more capable, and more committed to care for herself, her family and her community.


Episode 3: Homebound

What does it look like when the hustle and bustle of the hospital is behind you? We’ll hear from Elizabeth about her postpartum experience, and get expert insight on how the early days can impact a baby’s brain development.


Episode 4: A Sacred Privilege

We zoom out to look at the world of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, and see what comes next for the field. We learn more about Elizabeth’s work as a doula and a birth worker in tribal spaces and what it means to prioritize neonatal care in the context of community.

Listen & Subscribe 

“Our mental health journeys begin before we ever leave the womb and are bound up in the mental health of those who raise us.” – Ernestine Benedict, Host

The launch of The Earliest podcast comes on the heels of our State of Babies Yearbook: 2022 release with a wealth of data that show Elizabeth is not alone in her traumatic birth experience that “shattered” her mental health and affected how she bonded with her daughter. Nearly 22 percent of mothers across the country report less than optimal mental health.

Furthermore, only 10 states have enacted paid family medical leave, which promotes bonding between parents and babies and enables workers to care for their own and family members’ extended health needs.

This four-part series of The Earliest podcast delves into how those early bonds and connections form, and why they’re so important. We hope you’ll join us in this safe space to listen, reflect, and connect with a topic that matters to everyone.


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We need your support now more than ever to ensure all babies have access to the quality care, services and support they need to thrive.