Postpartum depression can have a devastating impact on a mom, but what about the effects of postpartum depression on the baby? New evidence suggests that a mom is not the only one to suffer as a result of her illness. Although a dad is capable of suffering at the hands of postpartum depression, we’re actually talking about the concerning effects of postpartum depression on the baby.
One of the most influential symptoms of postpartum depression that affects the child directly is the mother’s eventual inability to care for the child in some way, which is a direct blow to the special bond she has with her baby. She might refuse to pick up the child unless it is absolutely necessary, like moving to a different room or nursing.
If a mom is suffering from postpartum depression, she will deliver messages to her child that she is uncomfortable, self-doubting, and anxious. A baby looks to its mom for help in overcoming something called the fear response, which is basically a baby’s natural response to everything that happens in the early part of its life. In order to remain safe, a baby fears pretty much everything—that is, until mom shows her infant how safe the world is. Everything is completely new to a baby, who learns how to overcome fear through mom via everyday introductions to new people and occurrences.
If a new mom is struggling to make her own life steady, she is likely to neglect her baby’s unspoken need to be reassured and taught. She may also overlook cues her baby is signaling, such as the need to be comforted, encouraged, or guided, and thus the mother-baby bond is bound to suffer.
Another effect of postpartum depression on a baby is physical development. Physical development problems can arise if the mother fails to interact and play with her child in a way that encourages growth and development. Recent studies have shown that children whose mother suffered from postpartum depression are more likely to fall behind in development. If a mom is not in tune with her baby’s needs due to the distraction of her own suffering, she won’t be able to satisfy her baby’s needs properly.
Physical aspects such as coordination and muscle development can be hindered if mom isn’t there to encourage her baby’s physical growth. A mom suffering from postpartum depression is more likely to overlook simple, everyday actions that are very important in satisfying her baby’s physical needs, such as steadying baby in a sitting position for prolonged periods of time (such as mommy/baby play time), handing objects to the baby, and luring her baby to reach out, sit up, and crawl.
Playing with her baby and introducing her infant to other adults and children is a key tool in not only helping the baby to overcome the fear response, as mentioned above, but it also encourages the development of positive social skills. If a baby lacks interaction of this sort, the child is much more likely to become shy or uncomfortable in social situations or be unaware of how to act and play properly around others. Encouraging words and actions are also necessary in the baby’s first year of life in order to develop a sense of self-confidence. This confidence will continue to develop and mature as the child gets older, but the basic foundation is formed during a baby’s first year of life.
Studies have also shown that a child whose mother was diagnosed with postpartum depression is more likely to suffer from anxiety or high stress levels throughout their life.
If untreated, the effects of postpartum depression on a baby can be damaging. The less exposure an infant has to a mother’s postpartum depression, however, the lower the risk of long-term problems in her child. In order to give her child the best start possible, a mom suffering from postpartum depression should seek help for herself as soon as possible.
The health information in this website is for educational purposes only and is not providing medical or professional advice. It should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. If you have or suspect you might have any health problems, you should consult a physician.
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"No mother has to suffer from PPD needlessly. This is a fact. But until you know what you're up against, you'll still be trapped - without knowing why! A typical example is the common misconception that depression is "all just in the mind." Your first step is to keep an open mind; and allow Laura to take you by the hand and guide you step by step through the PPD universe. Using a "wellness" approach, and with her usual friendly and informative style, trust me, she can help you help yourself getting out of the rut - naturally - in no time."
- Naturopath Alex Leong, B.A.S.M.
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- Karen Szillat, Early Childhood Educator and Peace Advocate Author of Empowering The Children: 12 Universal Values Your Child Must Learn to Succeed In Life
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Sydney Z. Spiesel, Ph DMD Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, Yale University School of Medicine
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