Monday, September 19, 2011

Can my baby read my mind? Or, is a mother's mood transferred to her baby?

As most parents know, it's hard not to compare your kids to each other.  Since I now have a 5 month old, I keep finding myself comparing her habits to those of her older sisters (2 1/2 and 4 1/2).

Even to the most casual observer, it's obvious that my oldest daughter is more -- how do we say? -- high-strung than the other two.  She had colic as an infant, and has always had a very strong-willed personality.  My middle girl, on the other hand, was an easy baby and, while she's horribly stubborn, she's much more laid-back than her older sister. My baby seems to be taking after my middle girl; she's the easiest baby of all three, and is happy and, for the most part, content. 

What has me wondering right now is the old wisdom that an anxious parent makes an anxious kid.  My mom used to tell me so often, "Oh, she [the baby] is picking up on your mood, that's why she's upset," that I started thinking the kid could read my mind.  I'd get upset when I had a bad thought, thinking that she could hear it, like some sort of infant seer or something.  This was especially true with my first daughter, because I had horrible postpartum depression and anxiety for the better part of six months after she was born.  I've always kind of wondered if this has made her a more anxious kid, prone to more difficult behavior.

On the other hand, I had pretty bad postpartum depression after my third daughter, plus major depression while pregnant, and she seems to be mellow and happy.  So maybe the prevailing wisdom is more of an old wives' tale than anything else.

Out of curiosity, I started looking online (because I know that if someone has thought about a topic, there's gotta be something online about it) for studies or information on the whole parent-to-kid anxiety/depression idea.  I found a few studies, but there wasn't overwhelming information.  Interestingly, most studies came from the UK, which leads me to wonder if maybe the US is a little behind with this area of research.  Here's what I found:

An article from USA Today about how anxiety and depression can pass from adults to kids, both genetically and through environment.  It centers more on adolescents and teenagers rather than babies, and discussess the benefits of CBT for kids.  

A posting on about the difference between normal perinatal anxiety and obsessive perinatal anxiety, but nothing really about how either kind affects the baby.

A few articles from Science Daily talking about sleep behavior in babies with depressed or anxious parents, relating babies' poor sleep to their parents' moods.  ("Babies Born to Women with Anxiety or Depression are More Likely to Sleep Poorly", and "Maternal Depression is Associated with Significant Sleep Disturbance in Infants")

Another article from Science Daily about how maternal postpartum depression is linked to depression in children, even into their teen years,

I went to the JAMA website (Journal of the American Medical Association) to see if they had any studies related to the issue.  I couldn't find too much, other than a lot of stuff about DHA and how it affects depression and anxiety. So if you want to know about fish oil, hit JAMA.

I'm not really sure what to take away from my very rudimentary research; it sounds like maybe there is a link between maternal anxiety and depression and that of the kids, but it's not hugely researched or documented.

I'm still sure my baby can't read my mind, though.  Well, somewhat sure.  A little sure.

Okay, I'm not sure at all.