Ming is a special mom in a special situation. She had suffered from severe postpartum depression after the birth of her first child. During this second pregnancy Ming stayed under the watchful eye of a psychiatrist and hired a birth doula to offer additional encouragement and support. Following a lovely natural birth two months ago, Ming and her baby initially seemed to be doing well. However, today the doula hears that Ming missed two of her follow-up visits with her psychiatrist. She worries when she hears the young mother report, “I think my baby is bored with me.”
“My baby is doing the weirdest thing,” this mother goes on to say. “When I get excited talking to my little one, she will suddenly roll her eyes up and look away from me. I’m beginning to think that she doesn’t even like me,” this mom confesses, as she places her baby in the nearby stroller.
What the science says: Postpartum Depression
This mother is describing “Switching Off,” a common SOS or Sign of Over Stimulation in babies. Though normal, this behavior can be especially unsettling to a mother experiencing postpartum depression.
Research shows that a mother with postpartum depression can have difficulty “reading” her baby’s body language. Such difficulty can interfere with mother-child bonding and decrease a mother’s confidence.
Typical “baby blues,” occurring the first 1-2 weeks postpartum, include these symptoms: fatigue, irritability, crying spells, decreased concentration, and trouble sleeping. In most mothers, these symptoms resolve on their own. However, if these feelings persist and become more pronounced, further symptoms of more severe postpartum depression can develop: loss of appetite, lack of joy, severe mood swings, difficulty bonding with the baby, withdrawal from family and friends, and even thoughts of harming oneself or one’s baby. Mothers with these symptoms need immediate evaluation by their physician or midwife. Providers will often have mothers complete the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale to assess for depression. This tool helps medical providers make recommendations such as counseling, emotional support through a support group, and sometimes medication.
Fortunately, Ming’s doula was trained to listen for and watch for symptoms like hers. Reviewing the Edinburgh with her doula helps this young mother realize that she is having symptoms of mild depression. The doula waits for Ming’s husband to get home, and she and Ming share their concerns with him. He, too, has worried that depression might be creeping back in. The psychiatrist is called, and Ming will see her tomorrow.
As Ming picks up her daughter again, the doula witnesses the “Switching Off” behavior this mother has reported. At first the baby’s arms jerk just a bit, her breathing increases slightly, and then she looks away from her mother’s face. The doula then reminds Ming of the HUG DVD they had watched during Ming’s pregnancy and how Ming had laughed when that cute baby had looked away from her mother’s face.
Ming brightens up as she gently holds her baby’s hands against her chest, softly calls her name, and is rewarded when her baby slowly turns toward her mother’s face.
Though all parents deserve family-friendly information on reading their baby’s body language, Ming’s sigh of relief reminds the doula of just how critical this information can be for a mother struggling with postpartum depression. This information becomes a piece of the healing process and keeps this mother on course for satisfying and effective interactions with her baby for years to come.
© HUG Your Baby 2018