This Critical Phase Can Affect The Entire Family

Welcoming a new little one into the family is one of the greatest milestones of a couple’s life, the excitement and anticipation preceding the birth of a child involves the whole family.

But even with nine months to prepare physically and emotionally for this blessed event, many parents go through a very difficult adjustment period — sometimes far more difficult than anyone could have predicted.

Often mothers are made aware they will go through some type of postpartum depression, but they usually don’t anticipate more than a few weeks of the “baby blues,” characterized by fatigue and feelings of being overwhelmed.  (Yes, you really can be even more tired than when you were pregnant!)

It can be very upsetting for a new mom who could not wait for the arrival of their beautiful baby to suddenly have feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

Forty to eighty percent of new moms experience some type of postpartum sadness, but most of the time these feelings decrease as mom and baby bond and get into a good routine and start to heal from the physical effects of pregnancy.

Sometimes, however, these symptoms do not go away and can lead to feelings of anger, guilt, and frustration that impact the entire family dynamic.

Postpartum depression [PPD] is being more widely studied by physicians and mental health professionals who are seeing a significant impact not only on the mother who has just given birth but on the entire family.

MedPage Today  reported on these findings:

At long last, people are talking about postpartum depression. Dismissed for years as no more than a touch of the baby blues or else unheard of entirely, postpartum depression — or PPD, as it is often known — has become an open subject. Healthcare providers are aware of it, many nurses and physicians routinely screen mothers for it, and articles in parenting magazines and major newspapers have been written about it.

But despite this progress, postpartum depression remains misunderstood in one very critical regard: namely, that it’s something that only happens to, and thus only adversely affects, mothers.

What’s more, the two groups appear closely connected. Among fathers suffering from PPD, a full half of them have partners who are suffering themselves. This means that in a significant number of households affected by PPD, both adults are suffering together.

Fathers may also feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to provide a “fix” for the difficult physical and emotional roller coaster their wives are going through.

Fit Pregnancy reported:

“We’re expecting fathers to be more involved in parenting than ever before, but most dads report being unprepared,” says Dr. Courtenay. “So while most dads want to be involved, they don’t really know what that looks like…and many new dads are uncertain about what to do. That uncertainty can quickly lead to anxiety, and we know that anxiety postpartum often leads to depression.”

When not just the new mom but both parents are struggling to adapt to the new family dynamic, and experiencing depressive symptoms, perhaps the most important consequence is on the newborn infant.

If the family experiences a prolonged period of postpartum depression, it can lead to serious delays in a newborn’s cognitive and emotional well-being.

Pediatric and Child Healthreported:

Unfortunately, it [PPD] also makes [infants and children] vulnerable to the anxiety, frustration and emotional strain caused by depression. These problems sink into their malleable minds like fingers into putty, leaving marks that may never fully disappear. Consequently, children of depressed parents have a heightened risk of many emotional, intellectual and behavioral problems – especially when both parents are suffering.

Newborns and infants don’t understand the complex physical and emotional struggles their parents may be going through.

Because they need their parents to mediate between them and the new world around them, infants whose parents are going through stress have a much harder time adapting to their environment.

Especially when mom or dad are not readily able to respond to newborn cues for comfort, the effects can be profound and long lasting.

How Stuff Works reported:

The natural result [of PPD] is an infant who is more fearful and less open to novelty.Since the earliest interactions between baby and mom and, by extension, baby and world, start to shape a child’s social development, PPD’s effects on fear reactivity and stress levels early in a baby’s life can have long-term effects on social engagement. A U.K. study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry in 1999 found that 5-year-olds whose mothers had been diagnosed with PPD had more behavior problems at home and at school.

There is even evidence that older children may have lower IQs if their mothers were depressed in the first months after delivery. 

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PPD can also affect older siblings who not only deal with jealousy or fear when a new sibling is born, but postpartum depression in mom and/or dad can compound feelings of insecurity and distress in the other children in the family.

How Stuff Works continued:

But it’s not as bleak as it sounds. While postpartum depression was not very well-understood 50 (or even 20) years ago, it’s now a highly studied, easily recognizable illness. Easily recognizable by mental-health experts, that is. So it’s essential for moms to seek professional help early on (from a doctor, psychologist or social worker, typically) when any signs or symptoms of PPD persist beyond the first couple of weeks postpartum.

Many new parents feel they have somehow “failed” if they admit they need help after the baby comes home, but the most important factor in treating PPD within the family is support.

Moms and dads should seek the advice of a physician or mental health professional if they feel postpartum depression is having a lengthy negative effect on the family.

Many parents are often fearful that a physician may just prescribe depression medication for PPD, but that is no longer the case.

Support groups and therapy for all members of the family are now widely offered, and special counselors trained in the postnatal period can help the family to get back on track with techniques and routines to practice at home.

As the postnatal period is more closely studied and more widely accepted as common, there is greater hope than ever to bring the whole family towards a level balance.