Maternal Depression

Signing, Bonding and Maternal Depression.

Maternal depression is debilitating. It is a bleak black hole with little joy. There is a sense of the weight of the world upon your shoulders and an inability to think clearly.  Tiredness, lack of support and nurture for mothers all have their part to play; staggeringly around 15% of those with maternal depression will not seek any treatment or help.

An estimated 10-20% of all mothers will experience depression at some point during their lives and 1 in 11 babies will experience the effects of maternal (ante or post natal) depression at some point during the first year of life.

As we know from Libby, infants are pre-wired for communication. They seek to communicate with us at every opportunity and by engaging with the people around them, neural connections are made and reinforced as cognitive development is formed. Longitudinal studies have shown that maternal depression and a child’s communication development are interlinked.

Laughter, smiles and eye contact form the basis of the very best part of cognitive development and trigger what Margot Sunderland, in her book What Every Parent Needs to Know, terms ‘joy juice’.

One Mother's Journey.

‘The outcomes (of using signing) for bonding and attachment were, for me, quite literally a stepping stone to better relationships with my children.  When I was 7 months pregnant with my second baby, we suffered a terrible car crash.  I will be honest and say that I don’t remember much about the following two years.   The terrible bleakness of post traumatic stress disorder combined with anxiety, depression and huge financial stress have left their mark. 

Without signing, I wouldn’t have made as much eye contact with my children or been as responsive to their needs.   At a time when my children needed me the most, I was almost unavailable but eventually, day by day, the depression receded and signing gave me a wonderful connection and great interaction with my girls as well as a path back to instinctive, responsive parenting and fun.  Because when you sign, you have to have eye contact with your child. And your child will laugh with you (because they find signing hilarious) and you will laugh back.  As research now indicates that maternal depression can affect language development in children, I am so thankful that I have children who are very articulate and confident with language which I believe as a result of using signing with them from babyhood.’

Five Activities for parents and babies to enjoy and that can help support your journey in establishing bonding and attachment:

SING…. nursery rhymes, songs on the radio, songs you love from your own childhood.  Singing is now recommended for all little ones from foetal stage and the continuation of using nursery rhymes with babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers helps children to develop syntax and rhythm with speech.  Children prefer their parents voices over any other so please take the plunge and sing with your babe in arms or in the bath or whenever you feel the urge, even if you don’t feel tuneful.

TALK…. to your baby at all times! Not baby talk, but general chattering about your day and what’s happening around them.  Just because a baby doesn’t “talk” back to you does not mean that they don’t understand you and it helps little ones to get a grasp of the flow of language.

CUDDLE…. Time spent with your baby in your arms is simply the best way to help a child become confident; secure attachment and bonding are crucial for communication, cognitive and social development and the more time you can spend with your little one just being together and surrounding them with love will do more for their development than almost any other thing. 

EYE CONTACT…. look at your baby when you sing, sign or talk to them, look at them when you spend time cuddling, changing or feeding them.

SIGN…. Signing can make all the difference in early communication exchanges; a baby’s needs can be met simply and easily meaning that there are fewer tears and much much less frustration for you and for them.  Signing can be done to songs, to rhymes, to stories.  You must have eye contact with babies when signing and you must always say the word as you sign it – which means you are talking and engaging with your baby.  Using sign with little ones is such a positive experience for everyone involved and helps a baby to communicate at a far earlier age than might otherwise be possible. 

Gerhardt, Sue:                Why Love Matters
Sunderland, Margot:    What Every Parent Needs to Know
Harvard University:      Maternal Depression Can Undermine the Development of Young Children (Working Paper 8)
NCT Research Series:    Postnatal depression; the impact for women & children &interventions to enhance the mother-infant relationship
Tronik, Ed:                       The Still Face Experiment


Please reach out for help and support if you think you are suffering with maternal depression. Bluebell Care provides support for mums, dads and families affected by maternal depression. 

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