Effects of Postpartum Depression on Children
Postpartum depression (PPD) is sometimes experienced by mothers after the birth of their child. It is common to experience its symptoms in the first year after childbirth. However, some women are more at risk than others. Few mothers also mistake ‘baby blues’, characterized by mood swings, loss of appetite or overwhelming feelings, for PPD. These baby blues usually go away in a few days. If symptoms of PPD persist, it might affect the development of the child. This article aims to educate you on the effects of PPD on children and how it might shape their emotional, cognitive and social well-being.
Understanding Postpartum Depression:
PPD is a serious mental health condition that may take a toll on one’s mental and physical health. It affects the mother’s mood, stability, behaviour and energy levels. Postpartum depression might make a mother feel disconnected from their child. They might feel like the child is not theirs and not care about them much, which also leads to confusion and doubts regarding their capability of being a good mother.
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10-15% of mothers experience PPD. You might be at higher risk if you’ve had depression before or during pregnancy, or if your family has a history of depression. Symptoms of PPD are more likely to be experienced by younger mothers, or if the pregnancy was unplanned. A victim of abuse during childhood is also at risk of experiencing PPD. The good news is that it is treatable. If you experience any symptoms, all you’ve got to do is approach your healthcare provider.
Don’t be afraid of being judged and keep quiet, it will only make your symptoms worse. Professionals can help you understand and cope with your emotions. If left untreated, symptoms may persist even up to the child’s teenage years. Lack of energy, detachment, moody behaviour, or risk of suicide increase. It also inhibits the healthy development of a child right from their early years. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening for PPD during infant visits at 1, 2, 4 and 6 months.
How are Children Affected?
Many people might think that effects are limited to the mother’s well-being. This thought might emerge from the belief that children are too young to remember anything. However, a mother’s connection with her child dictates how they grow. A child whose mother experiences PPD might have developmental delays and behavioural problems. They might face delays in language development, agitation, problems dealing with school, and adjustment issues. Let’s look at a few effects in detail.
1. Mother-Child Bond:
During early childhood, the mother is usually the primary caregiver. A child views themselves as a part of their mother. She becomes an integral part of an infant’s daily life and is responsible for shaping their growth. This connection is interrupted in the case of PPD since the mother feels detached and withdraws from the child. When the child is not getting the mother’s attention, they tend to internalize their anger and also pull away from people. Babies with mothers suffering from PPD are likely to cry more as well. When the baby doesn’t get the opportunity to bond with their mother, they aren’t able to develop their ability to self-regulate. The child also becomes passive and has trouble connecting with other people around.
2. Cognitive Development:
When a mother is not completely present, it also means that the child is not being exposed to enough learning stimuli. Thus, there’s a hindrance in development. The early years are crucial to development, and abilities can only be shaped when the caregivers are involved. Those mothers who still try to provide a learning environment often fail to provide positive feedback to the child. This slows down the learning process as wanted behaviour is not instilled. The child’s ability to process information is also affected.
3. Social Development:
The quality of care given to a child is linked to their social development. Children, when they do not build a bond with their mothers, face challenges in forming relationships. These children have attachment issues, which puts them at a disadvantage. They often find it difficult to build healthy relationships with family and their peers. Since the mother is emotionally unavailable to the child, they might develop trust issues as well. They might lack empathy, cooperation and other key social skills essential to successful social interactions. They might also develop insecure attachments later in life.
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4. Behavioural Consequences:
Children experiencing their mother’s withdrawal might exhibit symptoms of defiance or lack of attention. As they grow, there is a disruption in structure and routine. They might be irritable and withdraw themselves from society.
5. Risk of Other Disorders:
Many studies show that children whose mothers suffer from PPD have an increased risk of other disorders. It might be attributed to family stress, lack of connection and genes. A 2011 study titled “Postpartum depression predicts offspring mental health problems in adolescence independently of parental lifetime psychopathology” found an association between psychopathology and PPD extending into adolescence. It states that these problems are limited to internalized ones (feelings directed inwards, such as anxiety or sadness), rather than externalizing problems (those directed outwards such as aggression).
How Should you Tackle these Effects?
As you’ve seen, the effects of PPD can be harmful to both the mother and the child if not treated soon. Treatments of PPD have an 80% success rate. The first step to tackling PPD is to get over the guilt of not feeling connected to your child. You can only deal with it once you’ve accepted it. If your partner or a family member is going through any kind of problems during or after pregnancy, make sure you provide a supportive and safe environment for them to unfold these problems and overcome them.
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There are many options, so there’s no reason to give up. Find what is right for you. You can talk to a therapist one on one, or even involve yourself in group therapy. Additionally, there are support groups, where you can talk to others to take the burden off your chest. These people might be going through the same thing as you. If the symptoms get worse, professionals will be able to prescribe medication to help you. Focus on yourself as well. Give yourself the time to process everything going on around you and invest in self-care. By prioritizing yourself and overcoming PPD, you will make way for your child to grow up in a healthy environment as well. You can get relief from symptoms in as little as 2 weeks, so make sure you don’t let PPD pull you down.
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