Mothers of Fussy Babies at Risk of Higher Maternal Depression

crying baby

The potential for post-partum depression and other myriad forms of emotional behaviors which can range from joy and excitement to extreme fear and anxiety is widely recognized. Similarly, it is possible for some new mothers to experience a more severe, long-lasting form of depression called postpartum depression. Rarely, an extreme mood disorder called postpartum psychosis also may develop after childbirth. But there are situations where mothers of fussy babies experience extreme forms of depressive symptoms than mothers of less fussy babies. This is especially very challenging for those who just had their baby for the first time. The physical and mental exhaustion that result from caring for a new-born baby is obvious but a less soothable infant can prove to be even more distressing for the mother. Converging lines of evidence from previous research efforts suggested that mothers of more irritable infants generally report significantly less confidence and more stress than mothers of less fussy infant. This have been attributed to the prenatal stress and the socio-economic advantages that usually follow post-partum experience.

Recently, a new research study from the University of Michigan have confirmed that mothers of highly irritable infants experience greater depressive symptoms than mothers of ‘normal’ babies. This study looked into the relationship between how infant fussiness and a baby’s level of prematurity may influence the severity of maternal depressive symptoms. The nationally representative study, which included data from more than 8,200 children and their parents, appears in Academic Pediatrics. The scientists were able to discover that mothers of very preterm, fussy infants (born at 24-31 weeks) had about twice the odds of experiencing mild depressive symptoms compared to moms of very preterm infants without fussiness. The study included data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort.  Maternal depressive symptoms were assessed through self-reported and semi-structured questionnaires at the baby’s nine-month visit.

However, mothers of fussy babies born moderate-late preterm (32-36 weeks gestation) as well as mothers of full-term infants were about twice as likely to report moderate to severe depressive symptoms as moms of less irritable babies born at the same gestational age. One of the scientists, Prachi Shah, M.D. reported that they discovered 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.” “These findings reinforce that all mothers caring for babies with more difficult temperaments may need extra help managing the emotional toll” she adds. One of the researchers also added that pediatricians should pay special attention to mothers who describe difficulty soothing their babies.  “Pediatricians and providers should pay close attention to mothers who describe difficulty soothing their babies,” Shah says. “Early interventions may help reduce the risk of maternal depression that negatively impacts a child-parent relationship and that may be harmful to both the health of a mother and child.” She added.