Suffering from postnatal depression: lies, damned lies, and statistics

It's common for new mothers to experience a dose of 'the baby blues' - mood changes, irritability and feeling tearful - which normally clears up within a few weeks of giving birth. But what if the feelings don't go away? If you experience persistent and worsening symptoms, it could well be the result of postnatal depression. Here Cat Dean, blogger and author of The Postnatal Survival Guidediscusses some recent research, maternal guilt and her own experience of PND:

I have just stumbled across some research I rather wish I hadn't - according to a new study there is a "significantly increased risk of depression in children of mothers suffering from postpartum depression".

The researchers conclude that these findings... "emphasize the importance of screening for PND and to provide early intervention".

I realise that guilt is part and parcel of the maternal package for many women. We are constantly told that the way we treat our children today, whether we are putting them in childcare, feeding them ready meals or letting them watch too much CBeebies, will somehow damage them down the line.

Most of us cut ourselves a fair amount of slack on this front, mainly because "everyone else does it" and "you can never really tell what to put down to nature or nurture" are pretty compelling arguments at the best of times. And because we secretly know that it's not that bad. We're human and "good enough".

But this study is far more pernicious. It is bad enough going through PND at the time - the guilt you can feel when you're struggling to bond with your baby can be overwhelming - without then being told that you're hugely increasing your baby's chances of being depressed as a child/teenager.

I'm not saying we shouldn't study things like this - as the researchers point out, it's important to have the data so we can make strong arguments for helping mothers who are at risk of developing PND or are in the early stages of the illness. But the way we interpret and write about it is very important too.

Funnily enough, I've not seen this researched quoted in the press very widely - but I can just imagine the Daily Mail (or equivalent misogynist rag) leaping on it to add yet more insult to injury. Bad mothers who can't look after their babies properly also turn them into raving delinquents. Or at best, maladjusted adolescents.

We should all be able to look our demons in the face, and acknowledge that there will be negative consequences to things that happen in our lives, things over which we have no control. But we need to put them into context and realise that a) the findings of this study do not mean that every child of a mother who has had PND will be depressed, b) there are many things we can do to foster a loving attachment once we have recovered from our illness and c) if our child does get depressed, we will never know exactly what contributed to it.

We cannot beat ourselves up about everything. I already have this tendency so need to keep it in check. My eldest child is quite sensitive and highly strung - and I often find myself wondering if my PND is to blame for his moods. Truth be told, it's most likely that he's highly strung because I am - and you can't fight genetics. Or the simple fact of being four.

What we can do, though, is create some perspective, and work towards making our lives as relaxed and enjoyable as possible, regardless of our history. Sound too simplistic? Of course it is, and yet I genuinely believe it's the most important thing we can do. In the words of the AA Serenity Prayer, "grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference".

We cannot change one moment of our children's past, for better or worse. But we are masters and mistresses of our present, and should look to improving our quality of life and mind in whatever way feels right. For this our children will thank us.

Cat Dean blogs at and is author of Fertile Thinkingand The Postnatal Survival Guide, which is available to download now.

[Info will be outputted here..]
[This element could be added only to article page]
[Comments will be outputted here]
[This element could be added only to article page]
Follow Us
benjy davila

Comments (0)

Submit Comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published