Mutual regulation refers to a communication system that allows a mother to read emotional signals from her baby and meet his or her needs, as well as allowing the baby to read his/her mother’s response. So what happens when this system breaks down?
Post Natal Depression (PND), otherwise known as Postpartum Depression, is a condition that affects between 10% and 15% of mothers. It has many similar characteristics with depression, and if help for this form of depression is not sought, it may have an impact on the way the mother interacts with her baby, as well as the child’s future cognitive and emotional development.
One of the biggest problems with PND in mothers is that they are less sensitive to the needs of their babies, as well as being less engaged with them. Things like interpreting a baby’s cry and responding to it is one of the aspects that can be affected, such as being able to tell the difference between the hungry, sleepy or nappy-change cry.
Symptoms of PND (according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists)include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Changes in appetite
- An inability to enjoy anything
- Loss of interest in sex
- Guilty thoughts
- Thoughts of suicide
Effects of PND also include feelings of guilt, the idea that you may not love or feel close to your baby, or that he or she doesn’t love you back, and resentment towards the baby.
It is important for women to understand that these symptoms are normal, and are a result of hormonal and emotional difficulties and are not an indication of good or bad parenting. There are various suggestions as to how this can be treated or even prevented.
Techniques to help depressed mothers include:
- Listening to music
- Visual imagery
- Aerobic exercise or yoga
- Meditation or massage therapy
- Talking to a professional
Advice to new mothers:
- Don’t take on too much too fast. Learn to ask for help.
- Find someone to talk to
- Seek antenatal advice
Sources: A Child’s World and The Royal College of Psychiatrists