When a newborn arrives, everybody’s focus is on the baby showering them with blessings and affection. How often have a you asked the newborn mother as to how does she feel ? Although we know that it is hard for that tiny newborn to adjust with the world around, it is equally or even more stressful for a new mother to cope with the change. Especially because her hormones are creating a havoc and preventing her from bonding with her baby the way she should or is expected to.
The new mother is often depressed and feeling very very low. We have to admit that the perinatal period (from pregnancy to one year after childbirth) is not very joyful but indeed a painful time for the mother. It is mentally, physically and psychologically draining experience. The incidence of depression is higher in developing countries and in severe cases mothers can cause serious harm to themselves and their babies.
Identifying mothers at risk
If we can identify early signs of depression in women, then efforts can be made to improve mental health and ensure a smooth first year of life, both for the mother and the infant
- Depression and/or anxiety during pregnancy
- Difficult pregnancy due to stressful life event
- Low levels of social support (e.g husband, family, in-laws, etc )
- Low self-esteem which may be associated with body image , social pressures, etc
- Stress of child care and inability to cope
- Strained marital relationship
- Unplanned/unwanted pregnancy
- History of miscarriage
- Knowing that it is a girl child (especially if there is no son)
Impact on newborn
It is indeed a surprising revelation that sometimes there can be a huge disconnect between mother and child because of postpartum depression in the mother which was unrecognized and untreated. The period from pregnancy to first year of life is a crucial phase of bonding between the two and it lays the foundation for life of the newborn and has implications on their emotional and physical interactions with the World as an adult.
- Depression in pregnancy impairs growth of the foetus and can lead to low birth weights and small for gestational age babies
- Pre‐term deliveries and shorter gestations have also been associated with depressive symptoms
- Depression in mother hinders the bonding process and could last for a lifetime
- There is long term emotional, cognitive and intellectual problem in the child
- Children of depressed mothers tend to be malnourished and have overall poor physical health
- Developmental delays are observed in such infants right from 18 months
- Children of depressed mother could exhibit aggression or antisocial behaviour
- Negative behavioural indicators such as more irritability, less activity, less attentiveness and fewer facial expression is seen in children of depressed mothers
- Girl child of a depressed mother may grow up to have low self esteem and hatred towards opposite sex
The expression “motherly feeling” implies a sacred, precious and unconditional bond of love. But, this can truly materialize only when the perinatal period is made easy and pleasant for the mother. Depression in the mother can have devastating impact on the child as well as increase morbidity and mortality in the mother.
The solution to this is simply love, affection and care. We need to tell a pregnant woman that she is looking beautiful , she is doing absolutely the right things for her baby, and that she will be a great MOM! Also, post-delivery support and care from husband is most critical to the bonding of the entire family and its healthy propagation. Instead of just looking out for the baby’s physical needs, one must take time to address the mother’s fears, anxiety, apprehensions and overall mental health. Creating the right environment for nurturing the mother-child bond is vital to the building of a mentally and physically healthy Nation!