Ever wonder if babies and older children know their parent is feeling depressed or anxious? Having a postpartum mood disorder affects not only one parent, but the whole family.
Children are able to notice when a parent is acting differently by picking up on changes in routine and everyday behavior.
These changes could be:
- looking down and sad
- not participating in family activities
- fighting more with a partner
- flat sounding voice, or in the case of anxiety, more angry or ‘rushed’ sounding.
Children notice changes in their parents, and when they aren’t given an explanation they are left confused and scared.
Although infants can’t speak, they are very sensitive to a parent’s emotions.
Babies show us they sense depression/anxiety by:
- crying more (more irritable)
- being difficult to soothe
- having problems sleeping (not to be confused with normal frequent awakenings babies have)
- having less appetite than normal
- being less physically active
Why kids need to be “in the loop”
When we try to hide a parent’s depression or anxiety, children often worry that their parent is very ill and think the worst. Instead, children need to understand that their parent’s struggle with mood is temporary and that their parent will get better in time.
Does a postpartum mood disorder impact children?
Research does show that a untreated depression or anxiety in a parent can affect a child’s development, however, most individuals are still able to parent effectively. If you have a partner or another adult who is regularly involved in the child’s life (on a daily basis), who does not have a mental illness, this may “buffer” the effects.
Ask for help
Getting support in the home (child minding, cooking, cleaning), counselling, peer support (groups), and medication can all help. It’s important to take the time you need to rest and do what’s necessary to recover.
Toronto Public Health offers free parenting programs to help parents/caregivers learn about baby’s growth and development, including attachment.