How Mom's Depression Can Affect the Kids.

March 22, 2006

During my first days as a mother, the very last thing I thought of was myself.

I was focused on my baby: was she wet? Was she sleeping? Was she hungry? Was she cold?

I focused on my home: were all her tiny baby clothes in order? Were her bottles washed? Was the living room nice and tidy?

I brushed aside the pain in my breasts and the chills I was feeling until one night, I found myself shivering uncontrollably, unable to sleep because I was so cold. Turns out I had a raging case of mastitis, a painful infection in my breast that makes nursing feel like torture.

The next time I felt those symptoms, I didn’t ignore them. I caught the mastitis early, nipped it in the bud with antibiotics, and saved myself a lot of pain. My daughter had a happy, healthy mom, which made for a happy, healthy, well-fed baby.

Now that I’m working full-time and struggling to find some balance in my life, I try to remind myself not to place my needs (physical and emotional) last. I don’t want to turn into an unhappy Martyr Mom– for my sake, for my husband’s sake, and for my child’s sake.

This NY Times story was a good reminder. It details a Columbia University study that found mothers who suffer from depression and treat it can help prevent it (and other conditions) in their children.

Seems pretty basic, I know. But all too often, moms put their needs last, and this study says that’s to the detriment of their children.

Depression runs in families and has a strong genetic component, but environmental factors can trigger it. The study results indicate that for children of depressed mothers, that trigger is sometimes their mothers’ illness acting up, said lead author Myrna Weissman, a researcher at Columbia University and New York Psychiatric Institute.

Effective treatment for mothers could mean their children might avoid the need for prescription antidepressants, the researchers said.

I have never suffered from depression. But if I ever do, I will owe it to myself and my child to get help and get it fast. That could mean drugs, therapy, exercise, or some combination thereof.

”Our society gives a lot of lip service to how important mothers are but in fact we don’t always appreciate just how profound their effects on their children are,” said Stotland, who was not involved in the study.

While mothers often tend to put their own needs last, this research ”is a good argument for them to take care of themselves first,” she said. ”It’s a little like putting your own oxygen mask on first on the airplane. If you can’t breathe, you can’t help anybody.”