Depression affects most people at some point in their lives. Mums, perhaps the most significant incidence of depression might be after giving birth. Postpartum depression affects mums of all ages and is a serious condition that may have irreversible consequences. Worryingly, a study also now shows that there are parental depression effects on child development — particularly with regard to learning abilities.
Parental depression effects on child development
Recently, a study from the University of California (UC) discovered that postpartum depression in mums may lead to developmental issues in children.
In particular, the parental depression effects on child development included a slight decrease in IQ of the children.
Patricia East, a research scientist at UC San Diego explains: “High depressed mothers didn’t provide as much emotional investment or provide learning materials to support their child compared to non-depressed mothers. This, in turn, impacted the child’s IQ at ages one, five, 10 and 16, and lead to a lower average IQ score in children of depressed mothers. Although seemingly small, differences in IQ are highly meaningful in terms of children’s verbal skills and vocabulary.”
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The fact that these results have been observed by scientists before demonstrates the lasting and long term effect that depression has on a mother’s parenting and her child’s development.
The data also suggested that mothers who remain depressed 12 months after childbirth may continue to be depressed for a long time.
What should I know about postpartum depression and why does it happen?
Postpartum depression symptoms usually arise suddenly between days one to ten after giving birth. The symptoms peak three to five days later, and usually subside between 24 to 72 hours.
Mothers can get depressed anytime during the first year after giving birth, usually at least one month post-delivery. Symptoms can continue to persist six months after initial onset, and if untreated, can linger through to the next year.
The condition happens mainly due to hormonal changes in the brain after childbirth. An imbalance of hormones and chemicals in the brain leads to a dip in moods associated with postpartum depression, typically at fifth day postpartum.
Although most mums suffer from postpartum depression after childbirth, they usually recover fairly quickly. Depressive symptoms that persist may be a case of “baby blues.”
There might also be psychosocial reasons for increased risk of postpartum depression. Some of these include:
- Lack of support. Other than needing support during pregnancy and delivery, new mums also need to cope with household chores and childcare.
- Extra fatigue. Giving birth is an exhausting event. Coupled with caring for the baby while tending to other responsibilities, it’s unsurprising that women complain of sleeplessness and fatigue, which could increase a woman’s vulnerability and risk for depression.
- Abnormal deliveries. Women who give birth to premature babies, or babies with a birth defect, may become stressed by the unexpected change in routine.
- Breast-feeding problems. Do not feel guilty if you stop breastfeeding as your baby can grow well with formula milk.
- Negative feelings. The mother’s changing role may make them feel “inadequate;” feeling that they have lost freedom and control can also worsen depression. Even gaining weight during pregnancy can lower self-esteem.
Mums, are you depressed?
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How do you know if you are depressed? Sometimes, past events can offer some insight. Mothers who have experienced the following are likelier to suffer from postpartum depression:
- previous incidences of postpartum depression
- bouts of depression prior to pregnancy
- Severe premenstrual syndrome
- Stressful marital, family, vocational, or financial conditions
- Unwanted pregnancy or ambivalence about the pregnancy
Other than that, it’s difficult to diagnose depression since sometimes depressed people appear happy but are actually fighting a tough battle inside. There are some telling signs which you should consider as red flags, such as:
- Mood swings — such as being overly emotional at times and feeling disconnected from the world.
- Social isolation — intentionally staying at home and refusing to interact or socialise with others.
- Changes in appetite — a telltale sign of depressed mums. There are mums who lose their appetite and go through unhealthy weight loss, and mums who binge eat to feel better. Yet she stills feel low due to being overly thin or having to cope with further weight gain.
- Insomnia — Difficulties falling asleep make it harder to cope emotionally,
- Feeling a concoction of emotions — Depressed mums suffer from feeling guilty, sad, and overwhelmed, and may find themselves becoming moody and irritable.
- Bizarre thoughts — hallucinations, thoughts of harming the baby, and lack of concern for the baby.
- Extreme and unusual lethargy.
If you find yourself having any of these symptoms, please don’t beat yourself up further — it’s NOT your fault and you AREN’T a failure. Believe in yourself and take that next step to seek help.
How can I combat maternal depression?
Surely all mums want to get better after learning about parental depression effects on child development.
What, then, can you do to recover from such a debilitating condition? The key to recovering from maternal depression is early intervention. With a combination of proper therapy, counselling, and medication (where necessary) situations will improve.
Here are some good places to start:
- Association for Women for Action and Research (AWARE). You can call their helpline at 1800-774-5935. AWARE also provides counselling services. For more information, visit their website at aware.org.sg.
- Mindful Mums. For all issues pertaining to becoming a mum and motherhood itself, you can turn to their support groups which are free of charge.
- Seek support groups. Support groups are a great way to air your issues without judgement and share solutions with a community that cares. Postpartum.net and postpartum progress are some additional groups other than mindful mums.
- Consult your doctor before buying medication. Nowadays, there are a variety of therapies available for postpartum depression, including antidepressants, electroconvulsive therapy, and psychotherapy. But circumstances differ between mums and drugs have side effects, so always consult a professional for advice before proceeding.
We at theAsianparent hope this article on parental depression effects on child development was helpful to mums and dads alike. Suffering in silence for yourself, your baby or other family members isn’t going to improve things for the better. If you suffer or suspect that you suffer from postnatal depression, please seek help because things can improve.
References: Economic Times, Psychology Today, Live Science
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