How does postpartum depression affect child development?

Updated: Oct 11, 2019
  • Author: Saju Joy, MD, MS; Chief Editor: Christine Isaacs, MD  more...
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A large body of literature suggests that a mother's attitude and behavior toward her infant significantly affects mother-infant bonding and infant well-being and development. Postpartum depression may negatively affect these mother-infant interactions. [2, 68]

Mothers with postpartum depression are more likely to express negative attitudes about their infant and to view their infant as more demanding or difficult. Depressed mothers exhibit difficulties engaging the infant, either being more withdrawn or inappropriately intrusive, and more commonly exhibit negative facial interactions. In addition, mothers with symptoms of depression are more likely to discontinue breastfeeding earlier in the postpartum period. [69, 70] These early disruptions in mother-infant bonding may have a profound impact on child development. [71]

Children of mothers with postpartum depression are more likely than children of nondepressed mothers to exhibit behavioral problems (eg, sleep and eating difficulties, temper tantrums, hyperactivity), delays in cognitive development, emotional and social dysregulation, and early onset of depressive illness. [49] Furthermore, children of depressed mothers have been shown to have slightly increased weight gain at 6 months of life, which may be predictive of increased risk of obesity later in life. [72]

As previously stated, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has stated that more than 400,000 infants are born each year to depressed mothers. Due to the potential negative effects of postpartum depression on mother-infant bonding and infant well-being and development, the AAP has encouraged pediatric practices to create a system to better identify postpartum depression in order to ensure a healthier parent-child relationship. [73]

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