Evidence suggests that mothers of boys are at greater risk of developing postnatal depression. Check out what the research says and how you can spot the signs of PND. 

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Being a new mum can be stressful, and affects all of us differently. It’s important that we’re aware of the signs and symptoms of postnatal depression, so that we know what to look out for both in ourselves and in other new mums.

Are mothers of boys more at risk of postnatal depression? There is evidence to suggest this. Let’s take a look at what different research says and why it affects mothers of baby boys differently to mothers of baby girls. 

What Is Postnatal Depression?

A type of depression that occurs after having a baby, it’s important to note that postnatal depression can affect both mothers and fathers. It’s very common amongst new mothers, with NHS UK reporting that it affects one in every 10 women within the first year of giving birth. 

Most women recover fully from postnatal depression when they receive the correct support. Some women manage this at home, whilst others need to seek support from mental health professionals.

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Recognising the Signs of Postnatal Depression

You may have heard of the “baby blues“, which can include similar symptoms to postnatal depression such as feeling low in mood, anxious or irritable. This is completely normal, however, it should only last a few days after the birth of your baby. 

If such feelings persist for a longer period of time, this may be a sign that you have postnatal depression. Another sign would be that these symptoms occur a couple of weeks after giving birth.

What to Look Out For

Common symptoms of postnatal depression include the following:

  • Feeling sad or low in mood, for no particular reason. 
  • Losing interest in things that you used to seek pleasure from. 
  • Feeling constantly tired, and have no energy to do things. 
  • Your sleeping pattern is distorted. You may struggle to sleep at night and may find yourself falling asleep during the day. 
  • Losing your appetite and rarely feeling hungry. You may forget to eat for long periods of time. 
  • Feeling incapable of taking care of your baby and thinking you’re doing a bad job.
  • Struggling to concentrate and/or make decisions
  • Feeling constantly irritated and agitated, and just can’t be bothered
  • Experiencing feelings of hopelessness and guilt
  • Struggling to bond with your baby and don’t find joy or pleasure being in their company. 
  • Having scary thoughts about hurting or harming your baby.
  • Experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

Such symptoms will affect your day to day life as well as relationships with your baby, partner, family and friends. 

It’s important that you don’t struggle alone if you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned. Speak to your health visitor or your GP as soon as you can, because they will be able to help. 

Noticing Postnatal Depression in Others

Postnatal depression may not affect you personally, but remember that it is common amongst new parents. Family members and close friends may not want to talk about their feelings, out of fear that they’ll be judged. 

There are a few signs that you can look out for in others, that may help you to spot whether someone may have postnatal depression. 

Such signs include: 

  • Becoming upset and crying for no obvious reason. 
  • Struggling to bond with their baby. They may not want to play with them and may only pick them up to feed or change them. 
  • Not keeping in regular contact with people and are distancing themselves. 
  • Lost their sense of humour
  • Often speak negatively about themselves. 
  • Self-neglecting, and may not be washing themselves or changing their clothes.
  • Not having a sense of time of day, and are oblivious to time as it passes by.
  • Constantly think that something is wrong with their baby, and may be frequently seeking advice or looking online for answers. 

Dealing with postnatal depression is tough, and the person experiencing it may be very defensive if you suggest that they’re struggling to cope. Approach the topic sensitively, seeking alternative advice and support from mental health professionals if necessary. 

Links Between Postnatal Depression and Mothers of Boys

There are studies that have been done which show that mothers of boys are at greater risk of developing postnatal depression (PND). It is important to point out, however, that there isn’t scientific evidence to determine exactly why this is.

The University of Kent underwent a recent study in 2018 amongst mothers, which showed that mothers of boys were up to 79 percent more likely to develop PND than mothers of girls.

Interestingly, this study also found that women who experienced complications during birth were at an even greater risk. They were 174 percent more likely to experience PND than women who experienced no problems. 

This would indicate that mothers of boys who experienced complications during birth were at the greatest risk altogether of developing postnatal depression. 

A much earlier study was done 10 years prior by The University of Nancy in France. It was done on a much smaller scale, however, it also showed that women who gave birth to boys were 76 percent more likely to develop PND than women who gave birth to girls. 

While this doesn’t mean you’re certainly going to experience it, it’s best to be aware of the risks. This way, if you’re prepared and aware, you can fix any issues quicker and get on with being the best mother you can be.

Treating Postnatal Depression

There are three types of treatments that a person can undergo in order to overcome postnatal depression: self-help techniques, therapy and medication. 

Self-Help Techniques 

Managing your symptoms at home is a great place to start in overcoming postnatal depression. It’s important to remember that you aren’t superhuman: you won’t be the perfect parent and you will make mistakes. That’s ok!

Techniques include:

  • Talk to someone: We all take talking for granted. Talk to your partner, close friends and family about your feelings to help them understand what you’re going through. Discuss ways that they can support you. 
  • Accept help: You don’t have to manage everything alone and no one expects you to. Having a baby is hard work, so let others take some of the strain from you and offer a helping hand. 
  • Take some alone time: Having a baby doesn’t mean putting your own needs aside. Take some time for yourself, whether it’s going for a walk in the park or taking a long soak in the bath. Enjoy making time for yourself, and don’t feel guilty about it.
  • Get plenty of rest: We know this is difficult when having a baby, but don’t feel bad about sleeping when your baby sleeps. A rested parent is a better parent, and benefits your baby too. Forget about the pile of laundry that needs putting away, it can wait or someone else will handle it.
  • Exercise: Regular exercise can boost your mood and is a great way to focus your mind. When your body is ready, try some stretching in the lounge or a brisk walk with your baby boy.
  • Eat well: Eat regular, well-balanced meals to keep your energy levels up, and stay hydrated.
  • Attend support groups: Check out parent and toddler groups in your local area so you can build a connection with other new mums and share your experiences together. 

Psychological Therapy 

Before administering medicine, doctors will usually recommend courses of psychological therapy for women who are suffering from postnatal depression. 

There are three common types:

  • Guided self-help: This is usually done via online courses that you can access independently at home, while receiving support from a therapist. Courses usually last between nine and 12 weeks.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This is a type of therapy that helps you to recognise how negative behaviour is linked to unrealistic and unhelpful thinking. It supports you to break the cycle by thinking about things in a more positive way. Courses can be done one-on-one or in small groups, and last anywhere between three and four months. 
  • Interpersonal Therapy (IPT): This type of treatment involves you speaking with a therapist about your thoughts and feelings, helping to identify the cause of these. Courses last three to four months. 

Medication 

Doctors may prescribe antidepressant medication to you. The medicine works to balance chemicals in the brain that affect your mood, and you’ll usually have to take it for a minimum of six months.

The Takeaway

Whilst there is evidence that suggests mothers of boys are at greater risk of developing postnatal depression, the reasoning behind this is currently unknown. We could speculate about different ideas, but the bottom line is that there just isn’t enough research that has been done on this yet.

One study says that the best way to prevent postnatal depression is by having a good relationship with your health visitor, so that you feel able to speak openly with them. The key point here is about ensuring that you have someone to speak to, in case you’re struggling after you give birth.

You may be at more risk, but it doesn’t mean that you definitely will suffer from postnatal depression just because you’re expecting a baby boy. Be aware of the warning signs and speak to someone if you need to, but look forward to all the joy and happiness your baby boy is going to bring to your life.