Parenting a 'fussy' baby is harder on mom than anyone knows

It can lead to a higher risk for depression, says new study.

Parenting a 'fussy' baby is harder on mom than anyone knows

Trying to soothe a consistently fussy baby is undoubtedly stressful, and a new study reveals just what that stress can do to new moms.

According to a study published in Academic Pediatrics, moms of fussy babies have a much higher risk for depression. The study also found that the gestational age of the baby played a key role in predicting the mom's depression, with mothers of children born closest to full-term being the most at risk.

"We found that maternal depression risk varied by gestational age and infant fussiness,"says senior author Prachi Shah, M.D., a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at U-M C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. "Mothers of fussy infants born late preterm and full-term are more likely to experience more severe levels of maternal depression than mothers of fussy infants who were born more preterm."

It makes sense then that mothers of fussy babies who were born "very pre-term" (24-31) weeks felt slightly less depression than mothers of babies born closer to full term. As Shah points out, the "very pre-term" mothers were often better supported by doctors and professionals during their peri-natal care. "The additional support and services provided to families of very premature children help prepare parents for the potential challenges associated with caring for a preterm infant and may help mitigate the risk for maternal depressive symptoms," Shah says.

It's hardly surprising since so many women are not only carrying the weight of motherhood, but also maintaining their households, and trying to find that fine line between work and life as a new mama, especially of a fussy baby.

"These findings reinforce that all mothers caring for babies with more difficult temperaments may need extra help managing the emotional toll," Shah added. "Early screening for infant fussiness may help identify mothers with depressive symptoms in need of support, but may be especially important for mothers of infants born mildly preterm, in whom the symptoms of depression are more severe."

Still, perhaps it's the burden of perfection we put on ourselves that weighs heaviest on new mom's spirit when they can't calm their baby the way they think they should. The truth is, many babies have periods where they are fussy, cranky or colicky and that doesn't make you a bad mom. But it can make you feel overwhelmed and, unfortunately, unsupported.

Recent studies have shown that these first challenging months of motherhood are when most women completely neglect their own health as they try to adjust to their new reality. On top of that, according to some estimates, up to 30% of women feel they have felt "no support" from their doctors, who are the very people they would likely turn to for help.

As Shah's findings indicate, the most important thing society can do for mothers at risk for depression—or any mother at all for that matter—is to support them through the various stages of motherhood.

"Pediatricians and providers should pay close attention to mothers who describe difficulty soothing their babies," Shah said. "Early interventions may help reduce the risk of maternal depression that negatively impacts a child-parent relationship and that may be harmful to both the health of a mother and child."

If you are struggling right now, talk to your doctor not only about your baby's feelings, but your own, too, mama. Let your family and friends know what they can do to help you, like babysitting for a couple hours so that you get a break. This is so hard, and you deserve to get some help.

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