Up to 22% of new mothers and 25% of new fathers experience postpartum depression symptoms. It’s estimated that half to three-quarters of new moms experience the “baby blues,” which is a subclinical form of postpartum depression. This is a significant public health issue that has a long-term impact on parents, their 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, and it’s clear that carrying or holding your baby in a carrier, such as a ring sling, can have 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 further later in this article.
What are postpartum depression symptoms?
Symptoms of postpartum depression are similar between parents of all genders, although some symptoms are thought to be more prevalent in men or in women. 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.
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 women who have a history of depression, stressful life events, not enough outside support, feelings of unreadiness for hospital discharge, and who don’t breastfeed their babies.
A 2019 study postulates that faulty oxytocin receptors may contribute to postpartum depression, but it’s unclear whether faulty receptors create the problem, or whether the factors that contribute to postpartum depression also impair the oxytocin receptors.
Regardless of the causes of postpartum depression, infants with parents suffering from PPD are at risk of adverse effects, overall shorter height and lower weights, overall 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 when that touch is skin-to-skin, can reduce postpartum depression symptoms is indisputable. Using a soft baby carrier such as a Maya Wrap sling makes it easier to carry a baby snuggled right up against their parent, facilitating an increase in carrying and holding.
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 that is responsible for feelings of joy, bonding, and even milk production and childbirth.
What they discovered is that the evidence for kangaroo care both in preventing and treating postpartum depression is overwhelming. The skin-to-skin contact was shown to trigger the release of oxytocin both in parents and babies.
Mothers who engaged in kangaroo care had lower scores for postpartum depression and less of the stress hormone cortisol. This makes sense, as 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.
As opposed to those mothers experiencing postpartum depression, mothers in the kangaroo care groups felt stronger, calmer, relaxed, and clearheaded. They had more energy and saw themselves as friendlier and more coordinated than those 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 also been shown to reduce pain, which may be particularly significant in mothers with birth injury or who give birth via C-section, or for babies who experience birth trauma.
Overall, kangaroo care and skin-to-skin contact has been shown to have a significant impact on reducing, preventing, or treating postpartum depression, and holding, touching, and carrying a baby is an effective non-pharmacologic intervention for postpartum depression.
According to the article, the best way to position a baby is upright. The Maya Wrap sling supports babies in this upright 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.
Resources and comments
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