Health & Fitness

When moms get depressed, their kids pick up on it — even infants

Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (R), meets Kirsty Francois (L) and her 2 year-old daughter Teegan-Mia, during a meeting with a parent support group while attending the launch of a series of films to raise awareness of maternal mental health challenges in London on March 23, 2017. Best Beginnings, a charity partner of the Heads Together campaign which is led by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, has launched the 'Out of the Blue' film series to explore a range of mental health conditions.
Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (R), meets Kirsty Francois (L) and her 2 year-old daughter Teegan-Mia, during a meeting with a parent support group while attending the launch of a series of films to raise awareness of maternal mental health challenges in London on March 23, 2017. Best Beginnings, a charity partner of the Heads Together campaign which is led by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, has launched the 'Out of the Blue' film series to explore a range of mental health conditions. AFP/Getty Images

The bond between a mother and her child begins before her baby is born. In fact, did you know that infants develop an affinity toward their mother before birth? Consider that newborns recognize the sound of their mothers’ voices immediately upon entering the world or that at a few days old, infants can recognize their mothers’ smell.

Just as a baby knows his or her mother physically, they attune to their mother emotionally, even developing a smile in response to mom’s grin. So, what happens to baby when motherhood takes a toll on mommy and she suffers from depression or fatigue?

Mothers sometimes neglect caring for themselves to better attend to their children’s needs. The irony is that the primary reason mothers should not disregard their mental wellness is their children. Depressed mothers are less attuned to their children’s needs, which affects the attachment between a mother and her infant. Poor attachments may lead to children with inappropriate behaviors.

Mothers who suffer from depression or anxiety disorders also often fail to regulate their emotions in front of their offspring. Children see these behaviors and learn unhealthy ways of managing challenges they face. In fact, children of depressed or anxious mothers are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.

Mothers must recognize and attend to their own mental health care needs. Family and friends should be aware of a mom taking on too much, as well. Warning signs that a mom is struggling include fatigue, insomnia, hopelessness, irritability, poor appetite, anger or difficulties with concentration and energy. Some depressed and anxious mothers also suffer physical problems such as unexplained headaches and stomach or muscle pain.

Make this Mother’s Day the best for you and your child by taking care of your mental health. If you or a loved one are suffering from or suspect a mental health condition, seek help from a mental health professional. You can schedule an appointment with a University of Miami Health System specialist at 305-355-9028. There are also support groups offered through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). For more information, call 800-950-NAMI.

Samantha Saltz, M.D., is chief child and adolescent psychiatry resident and Julie Furst, M.D., is a psychiatry resident. Jeffrey Newport, M.D., is a psychiatrist and director of Women’s Reproductive Mental Health at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System. To learn more, visit umiamihospital.com/specialties/psychiatry.

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