One of the greatest fears women carry is that their pregnancy anxiety or depression has had an irreversible effect on their child’s health and development. For many, this unspoken, distressing concern relating to their child often turns into guilt that women carry for years.
This guilt is made worse by not talking about it.
It’s my goal to encourage you with the straight facts about the impact of prenatal emotional distress on children so that you can be free to parent without guilt or concern. I promise you that by the end of this blog you will think and feel differently.
Fact: Yes, Prenatal Depression and Anxiety Can Affect Your Child
The media sensationalizes (with insensitivity!) the effect that prenatal anxiety and depression have on the child.
Is there an effect? Yes. But let’s put this in perspective.
30% of children born to mothers with prenatal depression or anxiety (or both) develop an emotional or developmental problem that is evident anywhere between the first and third year of life.
That means that 70% of children don’t develop a developmental problem.
Now the big question: Why are some children affected by prenatal anxiety and depression – and others are not?
Learn about the facts regarding pregnancy anxiety here.
Fact: Some Children are Affected and Others are Not
Prenatal depression and anxiety create a RISK – not destiny. It’s not unlike diabetes. We know that when you have a family member who has diabetes, you are more at risk. Whether you actually develop diabetes basically depends on your genetics and your lifestyle.
With prenatal depression and anxiety, the risks to your child (and yourself!) are greater when the symptoms carry on after the birth of the baby into the postpartum period or beyond. And this is more common than you think with 40% of women having symptoms in the postpartum period that first began in pregnancy or before pregnancy.
The most recent research shows that it is how long the depression or anxiety last that is the greatest concern. That’s why we need to start managing depression and anxiety in pregnancy, so that we limit how long it lasts. But stay tuned for good news on this point.
Wondering where to get help if you’re pregnant and feeling depressed? Start here, then check our our list of resources you can take advantage of.
Fact: Risk is Not Destiny
Risk factors are like yellow traffic lights. They signal you to be cautious. To put strategies in place to manage the risk. The worst thing you can do is ignore the fact that risk exists. Back to diabetes for a second. If you take charge and manage your risk (e.g., eat healthily, exercise), you have a much better chance of not getting diabetes. You can lessen the risk.
Whether your child develops an emotional or developmental challenge depends on his genetics….and his lifestyle (which includes you!). Prenatal depression and anxiety are risks that signal that active management is needed.
What does that active management look like?
Do you know the difference between good stress and bad stress? Here are 4 ways to prevent bad stress in pregnancy.
Fact: You Can Play a Role in Your Child’s Future
Some of the most positive research I’ve seen lately shows that parents can do something after their baby is born to reduce the risks related to prenatal depression and anxiety. Here they are:
- Hold your baby
- As he grows, read to him and play with him
- Parent your child in a warm, nurturing, responsive manner
It sounds too simple to make a difference. But, a team of prominent Canadian researchers have followed the children of mothers who struggled with anxiety and depression in pregnancy. The brains of children who were held and cuddled by their parents were healthier than those who were cuddled less. By the time the children were 3 years old, children who were cuddled more showed negligible developmental or emotional problems. Other researchers from the UK and Australia have shown that warm, nurturing, responsive parenting can also reduce the risks of depression that carries on into the postpartum period.
Imagine. Cuddling your child, reading and playing with him, and being warm and responsive can overcome the risk that prenatal depression and anxiety can have. I hope that you feel encouraged, freed to parent with impact and influence.
Are you stressed out because of quarantine regulations? Here’s what you can do about it.
Please feel free to send this blog along, in a spirit of kindness and compassion. Many women need to hear this message.