Mothers of fussy babies are at higher risk for depressive symptoms. While the obviousness of that statement may have some moms rolling their eyes violently into the back of their heads, invisible illnesses such as anxiety and depression, despite being more and more talked about, still garner some judgment and skepticism from those who have never suffered from them.
While the “baby blues” are typical for new mothers to experience (with symptoms like mood swings, extreme fatigue, crying spells, sadness, and irritability that can last for a few days up to a couple of weeks), Postpartum Depression and its ugly sister Postpartum Anxiety can have the same (and more) symptoms that are more severe, frightening even, and last for much longer.
In new research conducted by the University of Michigan, it has been shown that two factors can cause mothers to be more susceptible to depression: how fussy the baby is, and when they were born.
The study which focused nationally on more than 8,200 children and their parents is the first to see if there’s a direct correlation between a mother’s depressive symptoms when she has a fussy baby while also factoring in how premature they were.
The findings were that mothers of very preterm, fussy infants (born at 24-31 weeks) had almost twice the odds of experiencing mild depressive symptoms compared to moms of very preterm infants without fussiness, whereas mothers of fussy babies born moderate-late preterm (32-36 weeks gestation) as well as mothers of full-term infants were almost twice as likely to report moderate to severe depressive symptoms as moms of babies born at the same gestational age who were less fussy.
Senior author of the research titled Interactive Effects of Infant Gestational Age and Infant Fussiness on the Risk of Maternal Depressive Symptoms in a Nationally Representative Sample, Prachi Shah, M.D., who is a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at the University of Michigan, said, “We found that maternal depression risk varied by gestational age and infant fussiness. Mothers of fussy infants born late preterm and full term are more likely to experience more severe levels of maternal depression, than mothers of fussy infants who were born more preterm.
While in no way trying to glorify or minimize the struggles mothers of premature babies face, according to Shah, while very preterm infants have higher morbidity rates, the perinatal care and support they receive at a hospital’s neonatal ICU, as well as afterwards may work to lessen the severity of maternal depression.
“These findings reinforce that all mothers caring for babies with more difficult temperaments may need extra help managing the emotional toll," Shah says. "Early screening for infant fussiness may help identify mothers with depressive symptoms in need of support, but may be especially important for mothers of infants born mildly preterm, in whom the symptoms of depression are more severe."