Depression in Mothers

Many mothers suffer from depression or depression in pregnancy.

Depression is common among mothers, and many new moms suffer from depression. A 2003 University of Michigan study revealed that one in five women may face depression during pregnancy. Despite the high number of expectant moms struggling with symptoms of depression, few of these women are receiving the help they need. New research from the University of Michigan School of Medicine shows that babies born to women who suffered from depression during pregnancy have “higher levels of stress hormones … as well as with other neurological and behavioral differences.” The impact of a mother’s mental state on her child is powerful well beyond birth and throughout the child’s development.

Some women struggle with depression at different points throughout their lives. Others may notice symptoms of depression starting to arise around the time they start having children. Common symptoms of depression include: lack of energy, disrupted sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating, a feeling of emptiness, a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, feelings of guilt or shame, a loss of appetite or a tendency to overeat, and at its most extreme, even thoughts of suicide. These symptoms can arise at any point in a mother’s life, and it is important not to ignore the symptoms for both the woman’s sake and for the sake of her child.

From the minute they are born, babies look to their parents’ faces for a response. If they don’t experience warmth or a smile reflected in the parent’s expression, the baby can become frustrated or upset. Studies in which mothers were instructed to keep a blank face when looking at their babies resulted in the infants feeling agitated and upset.

Mothers who struggle with depression may find it challenging to respond to their baby with joy or expression. They may have trouble taking pleasure in their child. When depressed, a mother may unintentionally find herself feeling distracted or out of it and neglectful of the baby’s needs. The baby may lack supervision or environmental stimulation.

Too often, women feel ashamed or guilty when they experience signs of depression. Instead of treating it like any physical ailment or illness, they see it as a sign of  failure or weakness. As a mother, they may indulge in destructive thoughts about themselves, “critical inner voices” that tell them they are bad or “fundamentally different” from other mothers. They may punish themselves for not experiencing the “joys of motherhood” that they imagine all other women are experiencing.

The reality is, many mothers struggle with a degree of post-pregnancy blues, and one in five women experiences depression at some point in her life. Some mothers suffer from more severe, longer lasting symptoms of postpartum depression. This can result from hormonal changes or even traumatic birth experiences. It’s important to remember that neither clinical nor postpartum depression are uncommon among women, and most importantly, that both can be treated.

There are many effective ways to treat depression. These include several forms of talk therapy, mindfulness meditation, and certain medications. There are also steps a woman can take in her daily life to help actively fight symptoms of depression.

As a new parent, so much worry goes into your child’s well-being. Yet, one of the most important things a woman can do when becoming a mother is to work on being in good mental health herself. If she starts to notice symptoms of depression, she shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed to seek help.

If you’re pregnant or a mother struggling with symptoms of depression, it is essential to remember that you are not alone. Never allow yourself to turn on yourself or become self-hating. There are many resources that can help you, starting with a depression screening test you can take online to see if you may be experiencing signs of depression. If you are feeling depressed, know that your condition is treatable and temporary. You can find resources for women at the National Institute of Mental Health. Getting the help you need is the most important thing you can do for your child.

About the Author

Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. Dr. Lisa Firestone is the Director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association. An accomplished and much requested lecturer, Dr. Firestone speaks at national and international conferences in the areas of couple relations, parenting, and suicide and violence prevention. Dr. Firestone has published numerous professional articles, and most recently was the co-author of Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships (APA Books, 2006), Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice (New Harbinger, 2002), Creating a Life of Meaning and Compassion: The Wisdom of Psychotherapy (APA Books, 2003) and The Self Under Siege (Routledge, 2012). Follow Dr. Firestone on Twitter or Google.

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Constance M

I have had my granddaughter since she was 2 weeks old, her mother went through depression and didn’t want her. The baby has bonded with me. She has not had any quality contact with her mom.
My daughter went through depression because the father abandoned them. And she shunned her baby. Now the father wants back in the picture and she wants her baby back. Prior to that she only two weeks before that she said she wasn’t ready. I don’t feel she is ready and the only reason she wants the baby is to “Play House”. Reason I’m stating this is because when I approached her on taking the time to spend with her baby so she could bond with her she did not feel that was important. All she is concerned about is getting back with the father as fast as she can. They are moving to another state and she plans on just coming and picking up the baby in one day and leaving with her. Not allowing the baby to adjust to the change in caregivers. I need some advice. Am I wrong in being worried that she is not willing to give the baby time to adjust to her caring for her before taking her and drastically changing her complete environment. I need help, I’m scared for my granddaughter. If she isn’t concerned about her now how will she be with her when she does have her. And how will my granddaughter adjust to the change.


I wanted to share a post I made to explain my depression to my kids. Since I was hospitalized for over a month, it became necessary. I’m not suggesting that every mom needs to share their struggle with their children, but if you have to…. well, when I used this post, they seemed to understand fairly well. If it can help someone else out, feel free to check it out.

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