It’s easy to not seriously regard postpartum depression when you haven’t experienced it. It wasn’t until women like Brooke Shields, Heather Armstrong and yes, even Gwyneth Paltrow, started openly talking about their experiences that I understood how truly nightmarish it can be.
But, thank God for them. Because I was prepared. I knew the signs to watch out for. I may have experienced a very low-grade of postpartum depression after having Henry, but I monitored my feelings on my own and they eventually went away. I can’t imagine the nightmare of experiencing a very serious bout with postpartum depression and not really knowing that that’s what is happening to you.
It’s well-known that a mother going through postpartum depression will experience consequences, especially if she doesn’t get help. What is a lot lesser known is how that depression affects the baby.
Researchers have been studying the effects of maternal depression on children since about the mid-1980s. As James Windell reports over at SILive.com, the studies have a central theme: “If a mother fails to receive treatment for her postpartum depression, her child is very likely to suffer consequences.”
Those consequences are many and varied. Children of depressed mothers show withdrawal, irritability, higher stress levels, decreased vocalization, attachment problems, and depressed emotional expression.
And these consequences begin to appear within the first year of life, with infants showing signs of withdrawal and flat facial expressions.
In the toddler years, the children of mothers with postpartum depression display behavior problems, including aggression. Later on, as children grow older and enter elementary school and middle school, they often have peer-related problems, anxiety and behavior problems.
Makes sense. Every mom knows how often your children mimic what you do and if you’re not providing a role model for positive emotions they can be at a loss. Also, Windell points out that depressed mothers aren’t as good at meeting their children’s needs which can result in a child acting out for more attention.
Your depression can have long term affects on your baby. A recent article in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics states that if a mother has recurrent maternal depression, especially during the toddler years, her child/children is at significant risk of acting out by being aggressive and disobedient or becoming withdrawn and racked with anxiety and depression.
The authors point out that after studying more than 430 women and their children that formal child care, even just a small amount, during the toddler years — between ages 2 and 3 — can modify the negative effects of maternal depression.
You may not be able to avoid depression, but you can do something about it. It isn’t just about you. It’s about baby and your entire family. Remember, if mom ain’t happy no one is.