- Bouts of crying and irritability, along with concentration lapses and exhaustion, affect 80 percent of new mothers. But these baby blues disappear within a few hours or days of delivery. In contrast, 10 to 20 percent of women in the U.S. develop a more disabling and longer-lasting disorder called postpartum depression in the first year after childbirth that often impairs their ability to care for their babies.
- Dramatic hormonal fluctuations that occur after delivery may contribute to postpartum depression in susceptible women, but causes of the disorder are not fully understood.
- Postpartum depression can weaken the developing bonds between a mother and her child and thereby make a toddler more passive, insecure and socially inhibited. As a result, therapy often focuses on repairing the mother-child bond by changing the negative behavior patterns that develop between mother and child during depression.
The psychologist smiles at Manuela, a new mother in her late thirties. “Please play with your baby for two minutes,” the therapist instructs her and then leaves the room. Two video cameras film Manuela (which is not her real name) and her three-month-old daughter. In the next room, a split-screen monitor shows the mother’s profile on the left and her infant in a baby chair on the right.
At first, Manuela appears to be at a loss for what to do. Then, her face noticeably stiff, she begins to talk softly to her baby. Her baby fidgets, briefly makes eye contact and then turns away. Manuela eventually stops talking and stares into the distance, unsure again how to act. She absentmindedly strokes her baby’s foot with one hand. The psychologist knocks on the door; the videotaping is over. The new mother is now on the verge of tears.