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Does Postpartum Depression Impact Child Development?

April 23, 2022

Postpartum depression doesn’t just affect a mother after childbirth. A father, siblings, and extended family members can also be affected, leading to problems adjusting and daily life. But what shouldn’t be underestimated is how postpartum depression influences a child’s development. Postpartum depression in adults and others, however, can be treated.

What Is Postpartum Depression?

Experiencing the baby blues or other mood swings after childbirth is normal, “But some new moms experience a more severe, long-lasting form of depression known as postpartum depression. Rarely, an extreme mood disorder called postpartum psychosis also may develop after childbirth.”

It’s not a character flaw or a weakness but sometimes merely a complication of childbirth. Someone with postpartum depression may benefit from treatment to help them manage symptoms and form a healthy bond with their baby.

Know The Symptoms

  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Lack of interest in once enjoyable activities 
  • Changes in appetite
  • Problems sleeping
  • Low energy or more fatigue
  • Doing more meaningless physical activities (can’t sit still, pacing, hand-wringing) or slowed movements or speech with these actions observed by someone else
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Problems thinking or making decisions
  • Preoccupation with death or suicide 
  • Can’t bond with your baby
  • Feeling like a bad parent
  • Fear of harming the infant or yourself

Can It Affect Fathers?

Yes, postpartum depression can affect fathers. “Studies show that 1 in 10 dads struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety as well. Their symptoms are slowly becoming more recognized, diagnosed, and treated. A mom recently shared the story of her husband’s postpartum depression in The New York Times, and healthcare providers are encouraging pediatricians to incorporate postpartum depression screenings of fathers as well as mothers during well-child visits.” Fathers can experience the same issues as the mom, influencing the child’s development.

Risk Factors

  • You have a history of depression or another mental illness
  • Previous instance of postpartum depression
  • A family history of depression or another mood disorder
  • You’ve undergone stressful events the past year, like pregnancy complications, sickness, or job loss
  • Your baby has health issues or other special needs
  • You gave birth to multiple babies at the same time
  • Problems with breast-feeding
  • Spousal or other relationship issues
  • You have a weak support system or financial troubles

Does Postpartum Depression Impact Child Development?

According to a study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, “The consequences on the child of maternal postpartum depression are not restricted to infancy, but can extend into toddlerhood, preschool age, and even school age. Maternal depression that occurs later influences the development of the school-age child and the adolescent.”

Postpartum depression at different stages, exhibited by specific behavior on the mother’s part, can affect childhood development in different ways.

  • If the mother is angry or withdrawn or has other behaviors while the child is an infant, this could lower the baby’s cognitive performance.
  • If the mother displays passive noncompliance, less maturity, or internalizes or externalizes problems when the child is a toddler, the consequences may include lower cognitive performance and less creative playtime.
  • If the mother has impaired adaptive functioning or affective, anxiety, or conduct disorders while the child is of school age, development problems in the child may include lower IQ scores paired with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
  • During the child’s adolescence, a mother with affective disorders such as “anxiety disorders, phobias, panic disorders, conduct disorders, substance abuse, and alcohol dependence,” may influence learning disorders and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in the child.

It’s worth mentioning that these are only potential outcomes. Not all women who give birth will experience postpartum depression. Even for those who do, their symptoms and behavior may not be so severe that they negatively influence their child’s age-appropriate development. Questions about postpartum depression affecting a child’s development should be directed to a medical or mental health specialist.

Diagnosis & Treatment

If you’re experiencing postpartum depression, talk with your healthcare provider about your thoughts, feelings, behavior, and mental health – and how they can affect your baby’s development. Diagnosis may involve a depression screening and a voluntary mental health questionnaire, blood tests to see if a thyroid problem is triggering your symptoms, and other tests as needed. Sometimes, a medical problem is the cause and can be treated accordingly. Diagnosis may also mean seeing a mental health specialist. 

Treatment for postpartum depression often includes psychotherapy, self-help, diet and lifestyle changes, and newer options, including ketamine therapy. If you have postpartum depression, get help before it’s too late.

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