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Why Do Some Mothers Hurt their Child During Postpartum Depression?

written by: Sarah Irene • edited by: jen2008 • updated: 10/19/2010

The baby blues affects nearly 80 percent of women who have just given birth. True postpartum depression, especially that which causes a mother to hurt her child, affects about 10 percent of mothers.

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    With so many mothers experiencing the baby blues in the days and weeks following childbirth it is easy to understand why postpartum depression, or PPD, goes unrecognized and is sometimes mistaken for an insignificant mental state. The baby blues shares many symptoms with PPD including sadness, irritability, discouragement, fatigue and sudden mood changes. PPD should be considered when the symptoms persist beyond one or two weeks and the mother appears to be in a very depressed state that makes it difficult for her to get out of bed or show any interest in caring for herself or the new baby. Should the mother ever harm or neglect the baby, PPD should be suspected and medical care should be sought immediately.

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    Why Do Some Mothers Hurt their Child During Postpartum Depression?

    The wide variety of symptoms a mother experiences with PPD can lead her to hurt her baby both unintentionally and intentionally. Reasons a mother may accidentally harm her child include her lack of interest in caring for the child, inability to bond with the baby, feeling overwhelmed, being too tired and general feelings of negativity towards the baby that prevent her from fulfilling his needs.

    When the typical symptoms of postpartum depression completely overtake the mother she is at risk of intentionally harming her baby. The crying baby may cause such extreme frustration that the mother carries out violent actions like trying to suffocate the baby, hitting him or shaking him to make him stop. She may feel so overwhelmed, sad, hopeless or angry that she tries to kill or hurt the baby in a number of ways. In this state she truly believes there is no other option or she has reached the end of her patience with the infant.

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    What Factors Contribute to Postpartum Depression?

    The exact cause of postpartum depression and why it impacts only certain women is not fully understood. There are some risk factors that make a woman more susceptible to the mental condition. This includes a history of depression, having depression or postpartum depression in the family, abnormal hormone levels or low thyroid. Stress can exacerbate these risk factors making a woman more likely to develop PPD.

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    What to Do When a Mother Hurts Her Child

    After the birth of a baby friends, family and health care professionals should monitor a new mother's mental status. This does not have to be invasive, simply checking in with her to see if she is taking care of herself and the baby can make it easier to spot the warning signs of PPD. If the mother seems sad, indifferent, angry or any other mental state that seems inconsistent with a happy new mom, consult a health care professional for further evaluation. If the mother has actually harmed the baby, immediate psychological help should be sought. When a mom has been diagnosed with PPD she should be monitored closely to prevent harm to the baby. It is important to understand that not every mother with PPD will physically harm her baby. The mother may feel more stress or depression if she feels her loved ones fear she is incapable of caring for her own child. Most women with PPD have thoughts of harming the baby but rarely act on them. Once medication and therapy have begun, the mom will likely care for her baby appropriately.

    A mother recovering from PPD may wonder why some mothers hurt their child during postpartum depression and others do not. This question is difficult to answer but loved ones and mental health professionals should reassure her that it is often caused by the hormones associated with childbirth, lack of sleep and the stress of a new baby. Following a treatment plan will help the mother make a full recovery, which includes bonding with and caring for her new little one.

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    References

    American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Postpartum Depression http://www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp091.cfm

    KidsHealth.org: Postpartum Depression http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/feelings/ppd.html#

    MayoClinic.com: Postpartum Depression http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/postpartum-depression/DS00546

    WomensHealth.gov: Depression During and After Pregnancy http://www.womenshealth.gov/faq/depression-pregnancy.cfm