Postpartum depression is a complex mix of physical, emotional, and behavioral changes that happen to many after giving birth.
It affects up to 15% of all new mothers. But it doesn’t just affect the moms; it also affects their children.
How postpartum depression affects a baby
Postpartum depression (PPD) affects the mother’s ability to take good care of herself and the child.
This happens because right after childbirth, the mother goes through a lot of hormonal changes that affect her mood. These mood changes often go along with negative thoughts towards the baby. And because the mother feels guilty about having negative feelings towards her own child, or her new situation, she gets depressed. On top of that, new mothers often experience sleep problems, which make matters worse — a vicious circle.
The result is a mother who is depressed, and an environment that is not good for the child.
Research has shown that postpartum depression can affect a child’s early childhood development and also have long-term effects on the child, up to late teens. This is why it is important to detect and treat depression during the postnatal period as early as possible to avoid harmful consequences.
The effects on early childhood development
Multiple studies have shown that four domains of a child’s development can be adversely affected by maternal mood.
Psychomotor development: Research has found that infants of mothers with moderate to severe maternal depression tend to have poor motor development at 1 year.
Cognitive development: Babies of moms who have increased levels of maternal depression were found to have significantly poorer mental development and were significantly more likely to fail stage V of Piaget’s object permanence task — a key measure of an infant’s capacity for mental representation.
Social-emotional development: Research has shown that an infant’s social and emotional development can be affected by maternal depression. A study on the quality of infants’ interpersonal communication with the mother, showed that children of mothers who had postpartum depression showed less affectionate sharing, a lower rate of interactive behavior, less concentration, more negative responses, and less ability to socialize with a stranger. Similarly, assessments of the quality of infant attachment found an association between insecure attachment at 12 months and high levels of maternal depression.
Behavioral development: Maternal depression also seems to affect the behaviors of babies. Children of mothers who had experienced postpartum depression were more likely to manifest behavioral difficulties at 18 months of age. These include sleeping and eating problems, temper tantrums, and separation difficulties.
Many studies indicate that persistent postpartum depression increases the risk of adverse outcomes in preschool and school children, including delayed cognitive and language development, disorganized or insecure attachment, higher rates of behavioral problems, and lower grades.
It’s not the mother’s fault and it can go away!
The mother who is experiencing PPD is a victim of a biological reaction to the changing hormone levels after childbirth and needs help to cope with her situation.
If you suspect that you have PPD or any emotional distress that disrupts your daily life and how you care for your baby, talk to someone. Inform your partner, try to find support groups of mothers who go through the same things, and seek professional help before it affects your and your child’s health. With help, you can prevent a worsening of these symptoms and can recover fully.
Thank you note
This article about the effects of postpartum depression was made in collaboration and with the support of the Pranaiya & Arthur Magoffin Foundation — Better Well-Being for Parent & Baby.
Ketsupa Jirakarn (Mental health specialist) (1 August 2022)
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- Consequences of maternal postpartum depression: A systematic review of maternal and infant outcomes, National Library of Medicine
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- The Long-Term Impact of Maternal Anxiety and Depression Postpartum and in Early Childhood on Child and Paternal Mental Health at 11–12 Years Follow-Up, Frontiers