I am on the editorial board for an audio journal that the American Academy of Pediatrics puts out every month and soon we will be recording an issue about infant attachment issues and how they relate to parents’ emotional states. There is a lot of evidence that shows that infants in a household with a depressed mother are much fussier, more likely to have colic and later to have attachment and behavior problems. You would think that since this is well known in the medical world, more doctors would talk to parents of colicky infants about their emotional state. Strong evidence exists that if a parent is depressed or anxious and gets treated, the colicky symptoms in the infant improve significantly. That doesn’t mean that all colicky infants have depressed parents or vice versa but it certainly raises a red flag. I find that many parents are not comfortable bringing the issue up themselves but do respond favorably when I bring it up and I encourage us all to be more open with each other and supportive. It takes a good friend to commiserate with someone who is having a rough time adjusting to a cranky infant or the realities of 24/7 care but it takes a great friend to ask the question, “Are you depressed?” or “Have you talked to your doctor or the baby’s doctor about how you are feeling?” I was depressed after each of my three kids was born but it wasn’t until my husband said to me “You need help!” that I was able to recognize that I wasn’t just at the sad and anxious end of normal but truly needed help. I got help and what a huge difference it made. I want to foster a sense of openness and comfort to share your feelings and worries and joys in the office. You will never be labeled as ‘crazy’ or ‘THAT parent’ by me or my staff. Know you can talk about any ‘kooky worry’ and if you are way off base I will tell you. Know you can express your feelings and if you need support, I will help you get it. By the same token, if you feel your children or teenagers are changing emotionally and you are concerned, discuss that too….with them and if need be with me. The more we are all willing to share our feelings with each other and support each other, the more likely we will all be to have healthy, well children.
One of my hopes is to have a child psychologist in the office on a part time basis to address concerns both big and small that parents or kids will have. I think that the mental health and parenting components of pediatric care get short shrift sometimes and many parents would welcome the help during the rough times.
Another way I plan to foster mental health wellness is by sponsoring some programming through the BBFA. They run monthly Parent Education Programs on topics as far ranging as “Women and Contentment: Learning to be Content with Yourself and How Your Happiness Affects Parenting” to “Staying Connected with Your Child in a High-Tech World.” The lectures are free (although a donation would always be welcome) and take place monthly during the school year both in the morning and evening to accommodate working parents. Check out their site, www.bbfaprevention.org for more info.
Eat, love and play and each day will be your best!
Molly O’Shea, MD Birmingham Pediatrics + Wellness Center