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How maternal mental health impacts child development

According to Mariyam Khalid, the dilemma of postpartum depression and the integration of maternal mental health into health programs has been a global concern for a long time. A trend has been noticed that in women of child-bearing age, depression is widely responsible for the burden linked to mental or neurological disorders in infants.

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Postpartum depression and the integration of maternal mental health into health programs have been a concern for a long time. In this regard, through collective efforts, numerous international organizations have cooperated for the betterment and integration of maternal and infant health into extensive public health programs.

These maternal-infant morbidities account for a great economic burden and a hindrance in development, therefore cumulatively responsible for inter-generational weaknesses.WHO refers to maternal mental health as a state of health during which a mother realizes her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, and work productively to make a contribution to her community. Maternal mental health disorders primarily refer to anxiety and depression attacks during or after pregnancy, owing to a variety of factors. According to CDC 2019 statistics of U.S, almost 1 in 5 mothers suffer from mental health disorders but even less than 15% seek treatment.

Read more: Selena Gomez to donate $100 Million Dollars to mental health services

Understanding child development issues 

Child development issues can include emotional or behavioral disorders such as autism, concerns related to cognitive learning, or neurodevelopment issues. A vast majority of factors might interplay to produce such circumstances. Through years and after several types of research, it has been found that social, environmental, or genetic factors can cumulatively or independently interfere in showing detrimental effects on child learning or development. A major key role is played by the maternal emotional disorders or trauma from the past, which interferes with early parenting practices.

Often, it has been noticed that women having unstable emotions or lesser control over their reactions exhibit violent behaviors towards their children which directly or indirectly affect the child’s learning capabilities or neurological afflictions. On a broader scale, genetic heritability is also accountable for the transmission of unstable emotional patterns from mothers to children such as depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia which has been proved by the presence of various DNA variations in both.

The environment in which the child is raised and the types of practices or etiquettes he/she witnesses determines the future behavior patterns of the child. If the child grows up seeing the unhealthy relationships between his parents, he/she would be more likely to exhibit similar manners. An extended family system can be a source of better learning as it will involve more members but can have weaknesses too, which might be associated with harsh attitudes. Women also undergo higher levels of stress in these systems, contrary to the nuclear family system. The diet of the mother during pregnancy or breastfeeding period is a major determinant of a child’s physical and mental health.

Read more: The simmering pandemic: Mental health in Pakistan

The predisposing factors of postpartum depression

Several pieces of research have found that women belonging to lower socioeconomic class have difficulty affording high nutritious diets and effects are visible in physical or mental retardation of their children. The mother-infant relationship strongly associates with the child’s positive progress. Post-partum depression usually deprives the mothers to develop a strong sense of attachment with their newborns. Moreover, body changes post-pregnancy are another predisposing factor of postpartum depression. Lack of self-confidence and dealing with constant social pressure adds up to interfere with the prompt daily activities.

In an era of widespread technological innovations, the extensive use of smartphones has become another issue. Researches over the years have concluded that long-term use of cell phones during pregnancy can result in preterm births or exposure to radiofrequency generated electromagnetic fields can affect the development or growth of the fetus. The current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic has now desperately frazzled, causing health deteriorating impacts and taking a major toll on mental health. Some studies during this pandemic have shown a higher prevalence of mental health problems among women than men. Pregnant women during this time are specifically at a higher risk.

Psychological stress in these women can result due to concerns about the consequences of preventive measures, such as quarantine, home isolation, or limited consultation facilities with doctors. If isolated, they spend the most time using smartphones which can result in developmental defects of the fetus. Due to COVID restrictions, visits by family or relatives to pregnant women during a hospital stay are limited, therefore lack of support through these times can lead to anxiety. Some women might also opt for delivery at home but this can further increase the risk for maternal or infant mortality and postnatal complications.

Read more: How does diet affect your mental health?

Why it is important to pay attention to maternal mental issues?

Conversations involving maternal mental care are still considered taboo to some extent in developing or resource-poor countries which ultimately results in the inability of provision of basic mental health needs and an overall decline in health with high rates of mortality and morbidity. These maternal mental issues are continually rising and a major concern as they increase the risk for maternal and infant mortality or morbidity. Therefore, in order to minimize the risk of its development and control at an early stage, steps should be taken at all levels; individual, inter-sectorial, or community.

After being incorporated into the MDG’s, maternal mental health is now consolidated into private and public healthcare systems which require proper counseling during or after pregnancy, regular check-ups, specialist support and prescription of antipsychotics/mood stabilizers if required. Efforts at a social and individual level are equally effective such as communicating the concerns to family/friends, taking antenatal classes for better understanding, maintaining a healthy and nutrient-rich diet, or indulging in activities that balance mood.

Read more: Only 8-hour work week good for mental health: Cambridge research

Non-government organizations can also make voluntary contributions through awareness workshops or at-home consultation services. Implementation of strict policies along with regular surveillance systems can be a step forward to resolve the current weaknesses in health systems, public and private both.

The writer is currently working as an internee at the National Institute of Health and previously has been involved in volunteer work through collaboration with SOS Children’s village and PRCS. She can be reached at mariyamkhalid08@gmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

 

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