Nannies who work for mothers of young babies — whether it’s the mother’s first child or not — have a lot to deal with. In addition to the feeding and sleeping schedules, nannies need to keep an eye out for things like postpartum depression in the mother. It’s a common problem, but one that doesn’t have to go untreated. If you’ve noticed the symptoms in your nanny boss, don’t be afraid to broach the subject with her and ask if she needs help.
Every mother feels a multitude of emotions after the birth of a baby. It’s normal to feel a bit overwhelmed, anxious and irritable, and it’s natural to have some baby blues. If those feelings become exaggerated and all-encompassing, however, it’s possible that the mother may be suffering from postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression, or PPD, is a treatable disorder characterized by frequent and intense negative thoughts and feelings about oneself or one’s baby. It affects 10%-20% of new mothers, and it usually begins within the first few months after birth. PPD is thought to be a combination of physical, psychological and environmental influences. Symptoms of PPD include feelings of depression, worthlessness, guilt, panic, hopelessness, anger, inability to focus, mood swings, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, insomnia, appetite changes, physical illnesses and thoughts of harming oneself or one’s baby. If one suspects PPD, a medical professional needs to be consulted to diagnose and prescribe treatment for the disorder.
Factors that put a person at risk for PPD include a history of mental illness, acute depression and anxiety while pregnant, early childhood abuse or trauma, a dysfunctional family, an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, recent separation or divorce, an unsupportive spouse or partner, low self-esteem, significant changes such as a recent move or death of a loved one, complications with the pregnancy or birth, a baby or other child that is difficult to care for and PPD with a previous child.
If a mother is experiencing or is at risk for PPD, it is important that she take care of herself and ask for support. Mothers need to ensure their own basic needs are met, including getting adequate rest, eating a healthy diet, engaging in gentle exercise and making time for themselves. They need support from loved ones, a therapist and/or a support group, who will listen to and not judge them. Mothers need to set boundaries, to try not to feel guilty about their depression or negative feelings and to focus on recovery. Medication may be necessary to bring the depression under control. While there is not a lot of research available on the effects of antidepressants on pregnancy and breastfeeding, it is generally agreed that the benefits outweigh any risks. A physician will be able to give advice about appropriate antidepressants, and should always be consulted before taking any medications while pregnant or breastfeeding.
PPD is a serious illness. It robs the mother of finding joy in her child and interferes with her ability to bond with and care for her baby. It also puts excessive stress on the mother, her family and her relationships. Some research suggests that PPD may lead to developmental delays and behavioral problems for the child. In extreme cases it can lead to a mother hurting herself or the baby. This behavior may stem from an unrealistic belief that she is an inadequate parent, as illustrated in this news article.
If you suspect your employer is suffering from PPD, it is important to remain supportive, reassuring and nonjudgmental. Encourage the mother to seek help from loved ones, medical professionals and support groups, such as Postpartum Support International. While you’re caring for the baby, encourage the mother to relax. You may wish to light a scented a candle, put on soothing music, prepare a warm bath, invite the mother on a walk with the baby, encourage her to do yoga or read an uplifting book. If you’re comfortable, ask how her treatment is progressing and offer to be an empathetic listener. Be alert to signs that the mother may harm herself or child, including intense bouts of depression, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness and acting angry or indifferent toward the baby. It’s a good idea to set an emergency plan in advance. For example, obtain written permission to remove the baby and any other children from a situation you deem dangerous. Keep emergency contact numbers handy.
As a nanny, simply being a safe, supportive caretaker for a child will offer a huge amount of support to all involved and will greatly assist the mother on her road to recovery.