Saturday, January 24, 2009

Opportunity 6: Talk to a New Parent

Over the last couple of days, there has been discussion on a pediatric listserv about the consuming feelings of frustration, depression and hopelessness experienced by some parents of autistic children. Add to that, the understandable frustration of searching for a cure...

Something very similar happens with new parents.

A 2003
study by Mayo Clinic researchers found that 69 per cent of mothers and 58 per cent of fathers reported having unwanted "obsessional thoughts" about their newborn child, including suffocation or SIDS, accidents, intentional harm, losing the infant, illness, unacceptable sexual thoughts and risk of contamination from other people or objects.

A 2008
study in Canada supports those findings, concluding
High parenting stress and low social support predicted the occurrence of thoughts of intentional harm. Little evidence of an association between these thoughts and aggressive parenting was found. Unwanted intrusive thoughts of harming one’s infant are a relatively normative experience during the early postpartum period, particularly in association with greater parenting stress and low social support.
Of note, the Mayo study reported new fathers were as likely as mothers to worry about their baby dying from sudden infant death syndrome, suffocating, or being hurt in accidents - and as likely to think about intentionally harming their child.

Education is needed: a 2008
study found that nearly one-third of U.S. parents had "a surprisingly low-level knowledge of typical infant development and unrealistic expectations for their child's physical, social and emotional growth." 

And this Australian study concluded that "fathers, at the time of the birth, have needs in regard to their ability to cope with the stresses of new parenthood and the skills and knowledge to care for their new baby."   It also includes some interesting references to research on anxiety and postpartum disorders experienced by fathers.

So, one thing you can do is talk frankly and openly to a new parent.  

Share this information, and if you are a parent, share your experience.  Especially the toughest moments and the "unwanted" thoughts. 

It's important that new parents understand that those feelings of frustration and anger are normal, so they know that it's OK to talk about it.

And don't forget to talk about postpartum depression and mood disorders.   

Postpartum disorders are more common, and advice from healthcare professionals is less common, than you might think.

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