This article originally appeared in the Aug. 2, 2012, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
A new baby brings new experiences and excitement, but many new moms sometimes feel sad, anxious and stressed after the baby arrives. These feelings that mothers experience are sometimes symptoms of maternal depression, a serious issue that can affect the whole family.
Maternal depression is a lot more common than we all tend to think. Whether snow is on the ground or flowers are in bloom, maternal depression can affect up to 10 to 20 percent of all mothers. “Baby Blues” are not to be confused with depression, however. Mothers dealing with postpartum or other types of depression experience sustained periods of poor appetite, unusual amounts of crying, trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, and even thoughts of suicide.
When mothers struggle with depression, their children are affected as well. Children of depressed mothers can possibly experience behavior problems and delays in cognitive and social development.
“Kids with depressed mothers actually are at risk for delays in their development, but socially there’s an attachment problem that kids will have,” said Dr. Matthew Broom, a pediatrician at Danis Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon. “If they have a social or cognitive developmental delay because they’re not getting the appropriate stimulation or attention, and the mother remains unable to appropriately engage in the care of her infant, the baby will remain at risk until the mother gets some help.”
While all types of postpartum depression are serious, the good news is it can be treated. New mothers tend to feel guilty about feeling unusually sad, and sometimes know they are depressed but do not seek help because of negative attitudes of society towards depression and the stigma that is often associated with receiving treatment for depression.
Some people may worry that they will be seen as weak or inadequate if they suffer from postpartum depression, but that attitude is not very helpful. It is important to overcome reluctance and to seek treatment either through medication or counseling. However, before treatment can be affective, mothers, fathers, friends or providers must recognize the problem and be willing to seek or offer help.
Mothers dealing with maternal depression should know that it is common and that they shouldn’t battle it alone. Mothers should seek help through their own provider or talk to their child’s pediatrician if depression is affecting them and the people around them. Maternal depression can be treated and moms can get back to their happy selves, for themselves and for their children, with some treatment and care.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at www.cardinalglennon.com.