One of the hallmarks of depression is to see oneself as utterly worthless with nothing at all to offer to benefit others. In this way, a depressed mother who has recently given birth may believe that she has nothing of value to offer her baby.
She may think : ‘What’s the point of smiling at my baby?’ or, ‘What’s the point of cuddling my baby?’ In her own mind, she is so utterly without value that her own baby, she wrongly believes, would derive no benefit from such maternal behaviors.
This may sound extreme, but clinical depression can severely distort a person’s thinking in such a way. (Indeed, some forms of extreme depression can lead to psychotic episodes – in such a state, one becomes significantly out of touch with reality – click here to read my article on psychotic depression).
Unfortunately, because of biological changes taking place after the mother has given birth, it is a time in her life when she is most susceptible to developing depression – such a depression is normally referred to as post natal depression.
Sadly, too, the very earliest years of a child’s life is the time at which that child is most vulnerable to being adversely affected by the mother’s depression : a most unhappy coincidence.
Other factors which may contribute to a mother’s depression after the birth of her child include being awoken during the night by the baby’s crying, new demands and responsibilities and less personal freedom.
If, because of her depression, the mother becomes largely unresponsive to the baby’s needs for warm interaction, attention, nurturing and affection, the baby itself is likely to develop depressive- like symptoms, losing his/her natural curiosity, interest and delight in what goes on around him/her, and, instead, becoming withdrawn and unresponsive.
This adverse reaction is due to the fact that a severely depressed mother will negatively affect the baby’s brain chemistry and structural development (click here to read more on this).
Furthermore, a baby who grew up whilst his/her mother was depressed may also :
– have impaired language development
– have impaired abilities to socially interact successfully (with other toddlers)
– be more likely to demonstrate disturbed behaviors
– be far more vulnerable to the negative effects of stress than normal (this is because if a mother deprives her baby of positive interaction then that baby will fail to manufacture sufficient cortisol receptors in his/her brain. Cortisol is a hormone that the body produces when under stress – with a deficiency of cortisol receptors in the brain, the brain can become ‘flooded’ with cortisol in response to stressful events which, in turn, makes the subjective experience of stress far more intense than would otherwise be the case.
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