Monday, May 20, 2013

Infant Crying and Maternal Depression

We all know that hearing your baby (or any baby for that matter) cry is stressful! Stress hormones are released so that parents jump into action to find out the reason for the crying. But what if the baby continues to cry despite the parent’s attempts to calm him? How does this affect caregivers? A group of researchers had this same question and conducted a study to see whether or not maternal depression was associated with infant crying, specifically inconsolable crying, or “crying that cannot be soothed.”
In a group of 587 postpartum women, infant crying was assessed at 5-6 weeks of age followed by a maternal depression assessment at 8 weeks postpartum. Total amount of crying was recorded for 4 days and the amount of inconsolable crying was also recorded. Symptoms of depression were assessed using a survey, the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS).
So, what did the researchers find?
At 5-6 weeks postpartum, the majority of mothers (about 57%) reported no inconsolable crying and about 13% of mothers reported more than 20 minutes per day of inconsolable crying. Mothers with “possible depression” (EPDS score 9) reported more minutes of infant distress (crying) compared to mothers with no depressive symptoms. They also reported significantly more inconsolable crying than mothers without depression. Mothers were twice as likely to be categorized as having “possible depression”  if their babies had “colic” (defined as more than 3 hours of crying per day) than if their babies did not have colic. Mothers reporting more than 20 minutes of inconsolable crying per day were 4 times more likely to be categorized as having “possible depression” than those that reported no inconsolable crying.
This study found that mothers who felt unable to calm their infants (inconsolable crying) was more predictive of postpartum depression than total number of hours of crying. This research group wondered if providing mothers with education about normal infant crying and ways to soothe their crying babies would be helpful in preventing depressive symptoms by reducing reported inconsolable crying. The authors state that further research is needed to confirm this.

Our “Baby Behavior” research has shown that caregivers need tools to deal with the normal crying that occurs in young babies. Knowing what to expect and that crying is not random, but is a form of communication, can help parents feel more prepared and less stressed.  Using repetition to soothe instead of trying a variety of different soothing techniques is the key. Find what works for your baby, such as rocking or singing and repeat it over and over until the baby calms down. Be patient. If your baby is very upset or has been crying for a while, it may take time for her to calm down. For more information about infant crying basics, click here. For tools to cope with crying, click here. Some babies cry more than others. For more information about persistent criers, click here.

Radesky JS, Zuckerman B, Silverstein M, Rivara FP, Barr M, Taylor JA, Lengua LJ, Barr RG. Inconsolable Infant Crying and Maternal Postpartum Depressive Symptoms. Pediatrics. 2013;131:1-8.

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