THE EFFECTS OF POST NATAL DEPRESSION
show that 10 – 15% of new mothers suffer from Post Natal
Depression (PND), and 50 % of those women go untreated. It is
also reported that 23 % of women with PND started to get depressed
during pregnancy. The bottom line is: Post Natal Depression
is common but it is not often treated. But without treatment,
it can affect a mother’s functioning as well as her infant’s
emotional development. Lets take a closer look at How! How does
PND affect a mother’s functioning and her babies’
birth of a new baby is overwhelming. There are significant amounts
of change for you, for your spouse, for your family and for
your baby too. In every change there are losses and gains. This
is true for you and for your baby. Before your baby was born,
he was fed and held and warm and well in your womb. You provided
for all his needs before he even knew he had them. Now that
he has been born, he has to communicate all of this to you.
He has to tell you when he is hungry, tired, sick, cold, etc.
So, for your baby the birth experience brings gains and losses.
are gains and losses for you too. There is a tremendous gain
in giving birth, where you can hear your baby breathe and count
his fingers and toes. But with the gain of the birth of your
new baby, you might loose sleep, independence, spontaneity,
adult company, intellectual stimulation, maybe financial security,
predictability and control. The adjustment to this new life
takes its toll and this is normal! Once you get to know your
baby and your baby gets to know you, things usually improve
and there is a better balance between the gains and the losses.
That first smile, that first step, that first word is a huge
gain and often makes up for lost sleep, the lack of independence,
identity, control and more!
depression occurs when you feel that things are getting worse
rather than better. It also includes feeling highly anxious,
withdrawn, angry, irritable, tearful and helpless. Mother’s
with PND have described their thoughts and feelings as:
I got anxious about the smallest things concerning my baby”
“ I thought I was going crazy”
“ I did not know who I was anymore”
“ I was trying to be the perfect mom but dying inside”
“ I did not feel real”
“ I felt like I was not the mother I wanted to be”
“I felt like the baby would be better off without me”
are many myths around having a baby, which feed into Post-Natal
Depression and prevent parents from getting the help they need.
Motherhood and fatherhood is natural and all parents know what
course this is not the case. Parents need skills, information
and training in their new role as parents. If every profession
requires some training, surely parenting deserved the same.
Why is it that society assumes that love is enough to raise
Bonding is automatic
Having a baby is like meeting your spouse at the wedding for
the very first time! Your attachment grows as you nurture him
in a very physical way. As you change his nappy, feed him, wind
him and bath him. In the first year of your babies’ life
it takes time to bond, and this is normal.
Mothers are blissfully happy to raise their children
Parenting is not always a happy time. There are moments of exhilaration
and moments of despair. Just like children can’t be happy
all the time, neither can their parents.
Perfect parenting is the best way to raise happy children
There are no perfect parents, just like there are no perfect
children. Our aim is to be “good enough” parents
rather than perfect parents (Dr Winnicott). If we can tolerate
mistakes in ourselves then our children have a greater chance
of tolerating mistakes in themselves too.
5. Mothers can handle their babies on their own
In the first few weeks and months, mothers need social, emotional,
financial, and practical support. This is a time when mothers
need to be supported by father, family and friends. When the
outside world supports mom then she can support the new baby!
Providing for her financially, allowing her to rest, helping
with some of the practical arrangements of the other kids helps
her to give the support that she needs at this time.
myths leave mothers and fathers feeling helpless, vulnerable
and inadequate. Having a baby is not easy. But parents need
time and an emotional space to adjust. Parents need time to
adjust to the gains and the losses in the experience in order
to become real parents with real kids.
what are the effects of PND on the emotional development of
most important emotional task for the first 18 months of your
baby’s life is to develop an attachment to a significant
caregiver. Children need to build a good attachment since this
is the basis for building emotional security and emotional relationships
later on in life. Generally, a depressed mother is often an
emotionally unavailable mother. This might be because her own
anxiety or feelings interfere with her capacity to build a good
enough attachment. This is supported by a study of two groups
of babies at eight weeks of age. The one group had a mother
with PND and the other did not. The results show that those
babies with a depressed mother were less responsive than those
babies without a depressed mother.
PND can disrupt the process of attachment and thereby affect
the child’s emotional development. But it is repairable.
When PND is treated, mothers are more able to contain their
own emotional distress in order to focus on the emotional needs
of their newborn. How can this be facilitated?
Skin-to-skin contact. A babies’ sense of smell
and touch is his connection to you in the world. For 40 weeks
he was surrounded by you in all ways. He knows your smell, your
voice, and your touch. He builds an attachment when he hears
you, feels you and smells you. Using a baby pouch is a wonderful
way to maintain skin-to-skin contact while moving around the
2. Bathing, holding, feeding, changing, etc
are all ways in which parents build an attachment to their babies.
The physical is the psychological in the first year! When you
attend to his physical needs you are nurturing him and this
builds your relationship with him. When he is wet and you change
him, when he is hurt and you comfort him, you are listening
to his inner feelings and experiences and responding to his
needs. He begins to trust that there is someone very important
in his world who will look after him. And so the attachment
to you begins to grow.
3. To contain his distress when he screams and cries.
A study showed that babies were better able to tolerate a loud
noise when in their mothers’ arms than in a cot. Babies
are allowed to cry because they are babies. But containing your
infant’s distress means that you have to tolerate your
own too. When the baby is distressed it is easy to become distressed
too. But it doesn’t usually help – it only adds
to the drama. Being a containing parent means allowing your
children to experience happy and sad feelings and being able
to support both. It is difficult to build an attachment to a
screaming, colicky baby. Your role as parent is to contain your
babies’ feelings and your own enough to survive the experience.
A deeper attachment might occur when the baby is more settled.
4. Mirror him! Smiling is a fantastic activity
because it heralds in the early process of attachment. At first
your baby smiles in response to satisfaction. As his needs are
satisfied, he begins to associate pleasure with the human face.
Your role as parent is to mirror him. To smile back, to copy
him. This is an important role in parenting from this day on.
When you mirror, you validate his experience – which makes
him feel alive and real.
an attachment in the first year is the most important psychological
task for parents and babies. But it is not confined
to this experience. When you move to a new city, you too will
need to establish new attachments – to people and to things.
First you might complain about what you have left behind. Then
you might explore the area around you and find some benefits
to the new place. And as it becomes more familiar, so you will
feel more attached to the place in order to call it “home”.
can disrupt the attachment between mothers and their babies.
But it’s never too late to work on this process! It’s
never too late to build an attachment to your child. But it
is not easy to do so if you are depressed, overwhelmed, insecure
and anxious. PND is treatable. If you need help, get it.
PNDSA on 082 8820072 (National)
Tel/fax 021 797 4498