Postpartum Depression Can Impact Infant Development—Here’s How to Stop it.
While postpartum depression (and anxiety) are common, that doesn't mean you should just sit back and let it runs it course, hoping it goes away on its own. Because, generally speaking, moderate to severe cases of postpartum depression (PPD) linger longer than necessary. Treatment can help you feel better faster. Also, there is the cognitive and intellectual development of your baby that can be impacted if you just hope it goes away.
I want to first say this -- Postpartum depression is the #1 complication of childbirth, occurring in approximately 20% of postpartum women. Why it happens to some people and not others is still not fully understood. It does not matter your socioeconomic status, your level of education or ethnicity. Even those with "all the resources and help" still find their selves lost as a new mom. This article is not meant to increase feelings of shame or guilt if you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression. This article is meant to help you understand the research based evidence that by getting help, you can improve your happiness AND the emotional and cognitive health of your child.
Treatment for postpartum depression is highly effective! Particularly when treatment is started early.
Most people are aware of postpartum depression, but may not know what it really is or what it looks like. It often gets confused with the “baby blues.” As a result, some women don’t take it seriously enough and go without a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
While PPD can be difficult to deal with as a new mother, it’s important to understand that it can also impact your baby. Multiple studies have shown that extended and severe cases of postpartum depression can have a negative impact on the cognitive development of a child – particularly in boys.
But, the effects of PPD can affect your little one much sooner than that. Let’s take a closer look at how postpartum depression can impact infant development (and beyond), and what you can do to get a handle on it.
How PPD Affects Your Baby
Postpartum depression typically sets in 4-6 weeks after giving birth, though as you might expect, that timeline is different for everyone. However, your infant can start to experience the effects of your PPD sooner than you might think.
They might start to experience dysregulated attention and arousal, and it can immediately affect their cognitive development. They will be especially at risk if your postpartum depression causes you to withdraw from your little one and parent “passively”, as though you’re just going through the motions.
Interestingly enough, even at such a young age, your baby might respond to your PPD with their own different styles of coping and protection, which can linger into their toddler years and far beyond.
How PPD Affects Your Child
As your child gets older, it’s important to understand that they might still be dealing with the impact of postpartum depression.
According to the National Institute of Health, maternal depression can lead to lasting cognitive and behavioral issues for children. For toddlers, that includes a less mature expression of autonomy, and lower levels of interactions.
Even for school-aged children, the effects can linger. They might struggle with impaired adaptive functioning and anxiety disorders.
The underlying theme for children of PPD is a delay in development – both cognitive and language. There is also a theme of behavioral issues and the development of mental health issues.
How Can You Stop It?
Many women don’t receive an official PPD diagnosis because it tends to “go away” on its own after a short period of time. That isn’t the case for everyone, though.
For example, if you were previously struggling with depression or you are prone to it, the effects of postpartum depression can linger. As a result, those effects will impact your parenting style and the way you interact with your child.
So, how can you treat it?
The best way to combat the effects of postpartum depression is to work with a therapist or counselor. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most common treatment solutions, giving you the opportunity to change your thinking patterns. When you’re able to do that, your behaviors will also change. It seems too simple -- Minor adjustments and challenges to your thought patterns can really help you not feel depressed or anxious? But it certainly can, and does!
For some, a combination of therapy and medication is the best course of action to help get them feeling their best selves the fastest. Your therapist can help you weigh the pros and cons of therapy vs therapy + medication for your individual case.
Group therapies can also help, especially if you’re hesitant or feel like you’re “alone” in your struggles. Many women go through PPD, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. But, it is something you can (and should) deal with right away.
Thankfully, you don’t have to do it on your own.
Even women with mild cases of postpartum depression should be aware of how they feel during the first year of parenthood. When left untreated, PPD can last for months. So, don’t assume it’s always just the “baby blues”. If you’re having a hard time, feel free to contact me for more information. Remember, the help you seek out isn’t just for you, but for your infant, too.
Feel free to contact me if you’re struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety. Together, we’ll work to get you feeling like your best self again! I offer a complimentary phone consultation to all potential clients. To schedule yours in a matter of seconds, please check here.
To learn more about how counseling can help you during your postpartum journey, please click here.
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Jennifer Perera is a mom of two boys, a spouse and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has a private practice in Springfield, New Jersey and also sees clients throughout New Jersey via telehealth. Her passion is helping new moms and dads find their joy again in parenthood through individual and couples counseling. She also runs workshops for new parents, teaching them techniques and strategies to help them have a stronger relationship - built to thrive during the parenthood years. Jennifer specializes in working with parents during the prenatal and postpartum periods and those coping with grief or loss issues surrounding pregnancy.