How does maternal depression affects babies´ mind and brain?.
Have you ever observed how babies expression changes when they are happy or when they are sad? Have you ever looked at their eyes?. Sometimes they "shine" and others they seem to cry even though they have no tears.
Research shows that babies are sensitive to maternal emotions and are affected by them. A pregnant mother with depression will increase significantly the chances of having a high risk pregnancy, the baby will have less weight and will suffer language retardation. It is not a matter of increasing responsibility to the mother, she already knows a lot about this, she does it herself (feeling responsable for issues that she shouldn´t). One cause of maternal depression is that they usually are over whelmed with responsibilities over the baby, as a consequence of societies expectations over motherhood and the lack of help from their mate and their environment.
The Journal of Psychiatric Neuroscience (2013) shows a significant relation between changes in the microstructure of the brains´ amygdala of the newborn and maternal depression. Newborns underwent magnetic resonance imaging scans to examine the brain amygdala structure and diffusion tensor imaging scans to determine the integrity of the amygdala´s pattern of neural connections.
Results show a change in the microstructure of de amygdala ( which is in charged of emotional regulation) of newborns with depressed mothers. As a result, babies showed less attachment in their bonding.
If we think about this for a moment, we can imagine that a person who is suffering depression is not able to interact with the same energy and joy. When a person is going through a depressive episode, she feels lack of energy and a kind of "being into oneself", does not feel like interacting with the world, does not get involved in proyects, doesn´t enjoy activities, does not get involved with life. As a consequence, the baby, that is in the other side feels lack of stimuli coming from the outside world, the caretaker has physical presence but very little emotional availability. The lack of joy in the depressed mothers´ care: bathing the baby, feeding him, putting him to sleep, etc. will transform most activities in a bored routine where the baby will grow with a profound wound, the luck of joy.
The way we carry the baby, we feed him, change his diapers can be a joy or it can be a burden, they can be performed like just a routine task, no feelings involved, that hurts the infant.
The babies´ environment has a repercussion in their brain development specially in early infancy.
The is an 80% of depressed mothers that are not being treated, partly because they are not being diagnosed.
HOW CAN WE HELP?
1.- Never talk to a depressed person in a way that she might feel acussed or that she is doing it wrong, they already accuse themselves.
2.- A good community network is crucial. People that can give a hand to the new mother in every way, going to the drug store or keeping good company or emotional support.
3- Put aside "social entertainment " a new mother should not be disturbed with these issues, it is energy consuming and she needs all of it for her new motherhood experience.
4.- Partner arriving earlier home, makes her feel she is not alone in this new protect.
5.- Time to recover. In Gotos´ islands, mothers are helped by other ladies from their community which will do all the work for her, for at least one month. The new mother only has to rest and to feed the baby.
6.- Think about different people that can take care of the baby for short periods of time, it will be appreciated. Be cautious with family help, it can be necessary but it can bring unwanted results. More frequent than what one would like, when feelings of rivalry arise they can be acted on, as a consequence the mother will feel inadequate.
7.- The "new mother" as soon as she feels like it, she can start with fun activities that she might enjoy not related to motherhood. Having interests and desires besides the babies needs is good for both, mother and infant.