Adriana Tribiño - Psicoterapia y Peritajes

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BABIES... Can they suffer depression?

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.


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.

SUSPICION OF SEXUAL ABUSE. How should we proceed?

The statistics are atrocious, in the U.S.A. . 1 out of every 4 girls and 1 out of 7 boys will suffer  sexual abuse before they turn 18. In spite of this, appropriate steps are not taken.

Misconceptions about C.S.A. (Child Sexual Abuse), in abuse there is penetration, and if there was no penetration, then it’s okay… it not the same as abuse. In the vast majority of C.S.A. there is no penetration. The definition of C.S.A. is determined to be an asymmetrical relationship where the adult imposes their SEXUALITY AND THEIR NEEDS on the child. 

Specialists estimate that 95 % of the cases of C.S.A. occur in the close family environment and that the aggressor is someone who maintains a close relationship with the victim (father, stepfather, brother, grandfather, uncle, teacher, usually a male figure).

It is often thought that if there was no violence, is not so disturbing. Tihs is a FALSE belief, when it is "seduction" by manipulating and cajoling the child it may be more maddening, because of the confusion it generates in the minor (but if they didn’t force me, I would also desire it!).  The victims are often blamed and feel that they are the ones who caused it, as a way of turning this traumatic experience that they had nothing to do with around , nor have they been able to do anything to escape because in all cases they have been "DUPED".  It is a form of reversing the situation, if they feel that they caused the abuse, then they can feel that they have some control over the trauma. They are more reassured to think that they were active members of the situation than that they were victims, which is what generates more horror and helplessness.

Without a doubt, we should stop sexual abusers from perpetrating this behavior . However, taking into account the difficulty of detecting the perpetrators (they are well hidden, and usually work or close to  places where they can exercise their perversion), given that they will always deny that they have committed sexual abuse and even if they are caught, they will maintain a facade of perfect behavior as long as there is "surveillance" and then revert to abuse, we must look at other alternatives.

From the point of view of psychotherapy there is a key concept in the question of abuse that I am not going to go into deeply, I will do that in another article dedicated to it, but I will state them: the compulsion (unconscious) to repeat fragments (re-enactment) of the trauma and from forensic psychology another: THE CREDIBILITY OF THE TESTIMONY of a juvenile, S.V.A. (Statement Validity Assessment).  The two usually entail a high level of professionalism and complexity. Although they are the least frequent we may also find ourselves with false statements.

Therefore, compared to the doubt or suspicion that a child could be in this situation I strongly recommend following a preventive program with a professional. Far from destroying the naivety of the child, it teaches the child to be very attentive to their perceptions and to be very assertive, so that they can recognize it and seek the help of reliable adults. It is the best tool that we can give to a child in response to this situation, because what they have learned will remain with them all time, it will be their best protection.

How can parents help?

It is of crucial importance not to attempt to "drag" the information out of the child. Offer yourself as an adult who can listen, be reliable, give support, protection, security and act appropriately in this situation. Sometimes the response of the surrounding environment is more traumatic when faced with abuse.

You always have to listen to children and not make them feel that what they say is irrelevant because of the fact that they are young. The majority of children don’t say anything when they are the victims of sexual abuse because they think that adults are not going to believe them.

Do not make them feel that adults never make mistakes and that if an adult says something it must be right.
 Teach them to be assertive.
Convey the concept that "my body is mine and I control my body" to them.  Do not insist on that they let others kiss and hug them if they do not want to. For example: "It would be good if you kissed your aunt, but if you don't want to she will understand, you can give her one when you want to".  This does not absolve them of greeting someone, good manners must be taught. 
    Teach them to be able to differentiate between good and bad touching, that which makes you feel good and that which makes you feel weird.
    A game is when all those who are involved in it are having fun, when only one person is enjoying it, it is not a game!
    There are "secrets" and there are "secrets", when secrets hide things that should not be hidden it is not good to keep them.