Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD) can and do impact the infant and other children in the household. The adverse effects can start during pregnancy and occur for multiple reasons.
It can feel scary to read the negative impacts a PMAD can have on a new parent and their family, but getting help allows time to recover AND can prevent the negative impacts from affecting the baby.
Untreated PMAD during pregnancy impacts the developing baby as maternal hormones cross the placenta. These hormones lead to complications after birth such as fussiness, crying and inconsolability. In one study, researchers looked at the brain activity of babies born to depressed mothers. The brain activity of these babies matched the brain activity of adults diagnosed with major depression.
The effects of untreated PMAD continue after birth, changing from biological to environmental. It is difficult for parents struggling with symptoms such as not sleeping, irritable mood, tearfulness and appetite problems to care for an infant.
Bonding between mother and baby can be interrupted when Mom is depressed or anxious. Babies bond with their mother by giving cues (crying when wet or hungry, smiling, cooing) and having the cues responded to appropriately (changing the diaper, feeding, smiling and talking back). Mothers with PMAD may be withdrawn and at times even feel apathetic towards the baby, making it difficult to respond to or many times even recognize cues.
Research has shown that when untreated, PMAD can have serious ramifications for children. Problems include behavioral issues, problems with emotional and social development, cognitive delays and a greater risk for lifelong struggles with depression and/or anxiety.
Research Findings: the effects of PMAD on children:
- Depression during pregnancy can cause problems in the newborn such as inconsolability, sleep problems, decreased appetite and less responsiveness with facial expressions.
- Babies with depressed and/or anxious mothers have a higher incidence of excessive crying or colic.
- Mothers with PMAD report problems with infant sleep and crying more frequently than non-depressed mothers.
- Children whose fathers struggle from depression are nearly twice as likely to have behavioral problems in preschool.
- PMAD in parents is linked to poor cognitive test scores in children including learning to walk and talk later than other children, learning difficulties and problems in school.
- PMAD in parents can lead to emotional problems later for children such as increased anxiety, low self-esteem and less independence.
- Older children in the family may have emotional detachment from the baby as a result of a parent’s PMAD.
The good news … PMAD treatment for the parent reduces its impact on children
A study completed by researchers at the University of Rochester Mt. Hope Family Center and the University of Minnesota Institute of Child Development found that treated postpartum depression not only helped the mothers, but it had lasting positive impacts on the children. When treating depression in a new mother, attachment to the baby increased. The study found that these new moms were more likely to read, play and interact with their children. They were more attuned to their needs, resulting in toddlers becoming less fussy and angry.
It is essential for parents struggling with a PMAD to know that having a PMAD is not their fault. Only untreated PMAD impacts children. Hope and healing are available!
Here is what you can do if you are struggling:
- Attend a good support group in your area. See www.postpartum.net for a support group near you.
- Find a therapist who has been trained in PMAD. (A list of Pine Rest clinicians who specialize in PMAD can be found here.
- Let your physician, psychiatrist or OB/GYN know you are struggling.
- Remember: this is not your fault. With the right help, you can get better.
- How friends and families members can help!
You are not alone! Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders are the #1 complication of pregnancy. Pine Rest has innovative, proven programs to help you feel like yourself again.