bond with baby

Postnatal Depression (PND)

How PND Affects Babies

Mother Looking Depressed

PND can affect babies developmentally. Mothers with PND are generally feeling 'low' which can affect their caregiving as they are less likely to be able to respond to all the baby's developmental needs. Interactions with the baby are likely to be 'flat' because the mother is low in mood and less able to show expressions of affection and joy to her baby. Her tone of speech when interacting with Baby is usually flat or dull, and her facial expressions may show sadness. As a consequence of PND the baby does not hear and 'feel' warmth/affection and joy when the mother interacts, which is vital for a baby's wellbeing (as discussed in Bonding and Beyond and Communicating with Baby). PND can also affect a mother's sensitivity with the baby as research shows that mothers' interactions may become intrusive or overbearing for the baby, which causes tension within the mother-baby relationship (discussed in Communicating with Baby Over-stimulation and Intrusive Interactions).

Because the baby is not being stimulated in a manner which promotes happiness and wellbeing s/he too is likely to show signs of sadness, as a reciprocal response to the mother's interactions. The frequency of 'unhappy' interactions causes the baby to want to avoid the mother's contact, so Baby looks away. As a consequence mother and Baby both suffer.

If PND in mothers goes untreated, research shows it has developmental effects on babies. Such babies are likely to be less attentive, and be less active and interested in their surroundings than most babies whose mothers are not suffering from PND.

Importantly, both Baby and Mum can re-establish a happy, loving partnership. The sooner the mother is treated the sooner the recovery and the more able she is to re-establish a bond with her baby.

Father Looking at BabySimilarly, fathers suffering from the effects of depression are also feeling low or sad, so these feelings are communicated to the baby during interactions. And, just like a mother suffering with PND, a father suffering can have an effect on the baby's wellbeing and development. Research shows that if a father's depression is untreated it can have significant effects on their child's emotional wellbeing and language development.

Importantly, with treatment and support, a dad can re-connect with his baby and developing family and can continue to share the enjoyment of fun and laughter.