Having a child is often thought of as one of the happiest moments in a parent's life. For many, this is the case. For others, having a baby can be a terrifying experience, bringing up mental health concerns that had not shown up before. A new study from the University of Kansas emphasizes the importance for both mothers and fathers to get tested for mental health concerns after having a baby. The parents, who were interviewed during their child's infancy, were found to have much higher levels of anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns than the regular population. This information shows that parents should be aware of their mental health after birth in order to create a more positive environment for their child and to be able to enjoy their child's infancy.

About Parents, Children, and Mental Health

The study was primarily based off of quantitative in-depth interviews with 17 new fathers and 30 new mothers, who were primarily from Kansas and Missouri. The incomes of participants ranged from low-income to middle class. Though a medical diagnosis of symptoms was not required, all of the patients in the study had experienced symptoms of at least one mental health condition.

The biggest concerns for new parents included social problems, like cultural expectations of parenting, relationship stress, family/work balance issues, and struggles with poverty. Low-income parents mentioned the following as their biggest struggles:

  • Not being able to meet their baby's basic needs because of low wages and job insecurity
  • Secure, affordable, quality healthcare
  • Reliable transportation
  • Safe housing

Low income parents could not afford mental health treatment for themselves because Medicaid, the coverage low-income families often use, cuts off after the first post-birth appointment. On the other end of the spectrum, middle class parents tend to put too much pressure on themselves to be perfect parents. When things don't go according to plan, middle class parents often feel like failures. Mothers especially internalize this guilt.

Fathers suffered stress from working at places without a family friendly leave policy and from a general lack of resources to prepare them for raising a child. "Nobody is asking about the father and how he's doing," said University of Kansas doctoral candidate and study researcher Carrie Wendel-Hummell. "People typically focus on the mom and the infant, so not only is it more difficult for men to express their emotions, nobody is opening up that window for them either."

What it Means for Postnatal Care

The period immediately after having a baby is mostly focused on keeping the baby safe, happy, and healthy. The attention rarely, if ever, shifts to the mother and father's health during this period. This study calls to question how we treat parents after childbirth. It suggests that parents also need attention and care to make sure that the stressors that come with child rearing do not take too strong of a toll. A mental health check-up might be a necessary component of postnatal care for parents so that they can enjoy their child's infancy.

Date of original publication:

Sources

American Sociological Association (ASA). "'Super-parent' cultural pressures can spur mental health conditions in new Moms and Dads." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140818012229.htm (accessed August 18, 2014).

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