What About the Children?
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. These babies’ brain activity 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 Mothers with PMAD may be withdrawn and at times even feel apathetic towards the baby, making it difficult to respond to or many times even recognize cues.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 the 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.
Some of the research findings include:
• Depression during pregnancy causes 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 infant sleep and crying problems more frequently than non-depressed mothers.
• Children whose fathers struggle with depression are nearly twice as likely to have behavioral problems in preschool.
• PMAD in the mother 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 on 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 part of the PMAD.
It is essential for parents struggling with a PMAD to know it is not their fault. Only untreated PMAD impacts children. Hope and healing are available!
Many read the negative impacts of PMAD on children and feel discouraged. However, getting help not only allows the parent to recover, it can also prevent negative impact on children.
Helping Older Children
Children pick up on their parents’ moods and can sense when Mom or Dad is not quite herself/himself. After the birth of a new baby in the family, older siblings may get worried if they see a parent crying a lot and may wonder why you aren’t spending as much time with them. Rather than try to protect children from your illness, let kids know (especially older children) you are not feeling well.
Parents can say something as simple and straightforward as, “You’re right; I have been upset and tired lately. I have not been feeling well.”
Don’t forget to emphasize to the children that you are getting help and will feel better soon. This way they will know the adults in the family are taking charge and will be all right. And, of course, reinforcing how much you love them, despite not feeling well, goes a long way.
• Use simple words like: sad, tired, cranky, worried and grouchy.
• Reassure them often that they did not cause the problem and it is not the baby’s fault.
• Let them know this illness is not caused by germs. Mommy/Daddy did not “catch it” from anyone.
• Assure them Mommy/Daddy is getting help and will get better soon.
• Let them know Mommy/Daddy may have some good days and some bad days as she/he recovers.
Although it may be hard to continue parenting older children as you usually do, try to keep their lives as routine as possible. Enlist the help of your partner and support system to keep your other kids active outside of the home with school activities, etc. The more they can be involved with things making them feel good and the more they can maintain their routine, the less your PMAD will impact them.
Your children might sense you are depressed and all is not perfect, but if their lives are the same as usual, they can be happily distracted as you work towards wellness. Work together as a team with your husband, partner and/or support persons to meet your children’s needs