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Depressive aftermath for new mothers.

Depressive aftermath for new mothers

About one in 10 middle-class, first-time mothers experiences a full-blown depression within six weeks of giving birth, according to a new survey. The postpartum depression eases considerably after about six months, but nearly half of these women continue to show isolated symptoms of a depressed mood--such as prolonged periods of tearfulness or feelings of hopelessness -- for at least another six months, says study director Jeffrey E. Cohn of the University of Pittsburgh.

He and Susan B. Campbell conducted telephone interviews with nearly 1,000 women who had given birth six weeks earlier at a Pittsburgh hospital. Depressed women reported numerous symptoms lasting at least two consecutive weeks, including overwhelming sadness and loss of interest in most activities.

Cohn and Campbell then observed 68 mother/infant pairs at two, four, six and 12 months after birth. In the phone interviews, they had identified 27 of the women as severely depressed, 10 as suffering from a milder depressed mood and 31 as free of depressive symptoms. Some depressed mothers were emotionally volatile with their babies during the first six months, Cohn notes. These infants were often withdrawn and did not look directly at their mothers. Other depressed mothers were emotionally disengaged from their babies, who often cried or otherwise sought maternal responses.

Ongoing studies of low-income women in Miami, many of them adolescents, indicate that as many as eight out of 10 remain depressed for a full year after giving birth, reports Tiffany Field of the University of Miami School of Medicine. While the Pittsburgh team used strict criteria for severe depression, Field's group relies on a standard self-report inventory that may identify only a milder form of depression.

By three months of age, Field says, infants of depressed mothers develop their own brand of "depressed" behavior, characterized by a lack of smiling and a tendency to turn the head away from the mother and other adults. These babies become more upset when they look at their mother's unresponsive face than when they see her leave the room, Field adds.

Children raised by chronically depressed or manic-depressive mothers often develop serious behavioral and emotional problems as they enter adolescence, maintains Marian Radke-Yarrow of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md. For the past 11 years, Radke-Yarrow has directed a study of 37 families with healthy parents and 63 families with depressed or manic-depressive mothers -- in some cases, with depressed fathers as well. Each family has two children. On the bright side, she reports that a few children of depressed mothers aggressively demanded material attention throughout childhood and entered adolescence in good emotional shape.
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Title Annotation:postpartum depression
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 25, 1990
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