Up to 22% of new mothers and 25% of new fathers experience postpartum depression symptoms. More than half of new moms experience the “baby blues,” a subclinical form of postpartum depression. This public health issue has a long-term impact on parents, children, and the family structure. Fortunately, in the last ten years there has been a great deal of research focused on how to prevent and reduce postpartum depression symptoms.
A great deal of research focuses on touch, bonding, and postpartum depression. Carrying your baby or holding him in a carrier has a significant impact on mitigating postpartum depression symptoms. This infographic from Carrying Matters offers a great overview of how carrying can help with postpartum depression symptoms, and we’ll explain more throughout this this article.
What are postpartum depression symptoms?
Postpartum depression is usually framed as a problem that affects new mothers. The truth is, parents of all genders experience post-partum depression, even when they haven’t given birth to a baby. We know that giving birth brings major hormonal changes, but you may be surprised to learn that a hormonal shift takes place even in parents who haven’t given birth, such as reduced testosterone in new fathers. In addition to these hormonal changes, all parents experience the huge shift in lifestyle and responsibility that a new baby brings.
Symptoms of postpartum depression are similar between parents of all genders. Most postpartum depression symptoms can be treated by your obstetrician or family doctor. However, there is a rare condition called postpartum psychosis which may put a woman at risk for harming herself or her child. If a woman is experiencing delusions (thoughts or beliefs that are not true), hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or smelling things that are not there), mania (a high, elated mood that often seems out of touch with reality), paranoia, or extreme confusion she should receive help as soon as possible. Postpartum psychosis, though rare, requires immediate medical help.
Parents of any gender may experience postpartum depression symptoms
- Abnormal appetite, weight changes, or both
- Frustration, irritability, anger, or increased conflict with others
- Feeling sad or crying regularly
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digested problems that do not have a clear physical cause or don’t ease even with treatment
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies, activities, or work
- Social isolation
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Trouble bonding or forming an attachment with the new baby
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, or hopelessness
- Fatigue or abnormal decrease in energy that seems greater than expected
- Significant changes in sleep patterns not related to the new baby
- Persistent doubts about the ability to care for the new baby/family
- Thoughts about death, suicide, or harming oneself or the baby (SEEK EMERGENCY HELP)
Symptoms that are more prevalent in new mothers and birthing parents
- Persistent, sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
- Feeling unable to care for the baby
Symptoms that are more prevalent in new fathers and non-birthing parents
- Working constantly
- Increase in risk-taking behaviors such as infidelity or the use of alcohol or illicit drugs
- Violent behavior
Causes and effects of postpartum depression
The causes of postpartum depression are not fully understood. Researchers have generally found that the risk is increased in parents who:
- have a history of depression
- experience stressful life events
- have insufficient outside support
- are discharded from the hospital before they feel ready
- don’t breastfeed their babies (due to hormonal changes during breastfeeding)
We don’t yet know what causes PPD. There are a number of theories about, but none are conclusive. What we do know is that infants whose parents have PPD are at risk of adverse effects. PPD may show itself in infants in overall shorter height and lower weights, fussiness, troubles with eating and sleeping, and attachment and separation problems.
Although research focuses primarily on maternal/infant relationships, our knowledge of human development makes it clear that babies’ relationships with all their primary caregivers have a significant impact on their long-term well-being.
Babywearing can reduce postpartum depression symptoms
The evidence that carrying or holding a baby (especially skin to skin) can reduce postpartum depression symptoms is indisputable. Using a soft baby carrier makes it easier to carry a baby snuggled right up against their parent, facilitating an increase in carrying and holding. Buying a baby carrier for a new family can go a long way toward reducing PPD. It’s even possible to hire a babywearing consultant to help parents learn to use their carrier.
In 2017, an article in the International Journal of Nursing reviewed 57 studies linking kangaroo care with a reduction in postpartum depression symptoms. The study particularly focused on a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin is responsible for feelings of joy, bonding, and even milk production and childbirth.
The evidence for kangaroo care both in preventing and treating postpartum depression is overwhelming. Skin-to-skin contact was shown to trigger the release of oxytocin both in parents and babies.
Mothers who engaged in kangaroo care scored lower for postpartum depression. They also had lower measurements of cortisol, a stress hormone. This makes sense, because oxytocin helps regulate calmness, connectedness, and socialization. Kangaroo care was shown to improve maternal mood and improve the overall quality of interactions between parent and child.
Mothers in the kangaroo care groups felt stronger, calmer, relaxed, and clearheaded. They had more energy. They saw themselves as friendlier and more coordinated than mothers that weren’t assigned to the kangaroo care groups.
In addition, mothers who practiced kangaroo care experienced more positive breastfeeding relationships. Higher rates of breastfeeding are associated with better outcomes for both mother and baby. Touch and stroking the skin has been shown to reduce pain, which is significant for mothers and babies who experience birth injury or C-sections.
Overall, kangaroo care and skin-to-skin contact has been shown to have a significant impact on reducing, preventing, or treating postpartum depression. Holding, touching, and carrying a baby is an effective non-pharmacologic intervention for postpartum depression.
Most research suggests the best way to hold babies is upright. Ring slings, wraps, and other soft carriers keep babies in this position, snuggled against the caregiver’s chest. The recommended duration of kangaroo care is anywhere from ten minutes to 24-hours daily, and a baby carrier makes it easier to snuggle the baby in this way.