Impact of Postnatal Depression
Impact on the mother-infant relationship:
While not so for all women with PND, PND can interfere with the behavioral and emotional interactions that are now recognized as being necessary for a successful mother-infant relationship. Mothers with depression might be less sensitive to the needs of their babies, might feel less close to their baby or could be less responsive to the baby's communications. As a result the mother may be withdrawn or overly intrusive with the baby as she tries to care for him/her.
The mother's feelings towards her baby may come and go as the symptoms of depression fluctuate. Sometimes the feelings make the mother feel numb, as if she has nothing to give. Sometimes the mother may feel overwhelmed or trapped by the demands of the baby and resent the baby. Or she may not be able to relax or switch off from the needs of the baby, needing to be constantly vigilant about his/her well being. These things are not reflections of the mother but rather the symptoms of depression.
Women experiencing PND benefit from gentle reminders and frequent reassurances that this will not last forever. The mother needs to be encouraged to make eye contact with her baby and to try to make faces and noises in interaction with him/her, even if she doesn't feel like it. The baby's father and other family members need to understand the baby's need for interaction and to continue to do so as the mother builds her ability to do this.
In the meantime it is important that the mother's efforts to care for her baby are supported, rather than taken over by others helping to care for her baby or other children. Small gains and huge efforts to interact with or care for her baby must be acknowledged and encouraged by her partner and family members, reinforcing her special role as the baby's mother.
Many women with PND have experienced these difficulties and have found, with recovery, that positive relationships and feelings have been re-established.