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Why Are New Parents Depressed?

New parents and depression.  Moms and dads.  There’s new research. We’ll unpack it.

A mother and her newborn baby. (David Laporte / Creative Commons)

A mother and her newborn baby. (David Laporte / Creative Commons)

New parenthood, new babies, come with love and cooing and lots of joy.  They can also, for more parents than you might think, come with real psychological challenges.  Post-partum depression for moms, that Brooke Shields put in the spotlight a few years back.  And, says new research, many more forms.  Anxiety.  Obsessive-compulsive disorder.  More.  Maybe a fifth of women report an episode of depression in the year after giving birth.  And dads, not immune.  Getting real about the challenges can help clear the way for the joy.  This hour On Point: new parents, new babies, and mental health.

– Tom Ashbrook


Pam Belluck, health and science writer for the New York Times. (@PamBelluck)

Crystal Clark, perinatal psychiatrist. Professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

Samantha Meltzer-Brody, professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine. (@smeltzerb)

Eli Finkel, professor of social psychology and management and organizations at Northwestern University.

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times: ‘Thinking of Ways to Harm Her’ — “Postpartum depression isn’t always postpartum. It isn’t even always depression. A fast-growing body of research is changing the very definition of maternal mental illness, showing that it is more common and varied than previously thought.”

The Atlantic: How to Enjoy the Often Exhausting, Depressing Role of Parenthood – “Because of all the work and exhaustion that accompany parenthood, it can bring a rise in depression as much as a boost in happiness. A number of studies have found that people are not only less happy after having children, compared to their pre-child levels, they are less happy than their childless counterparts.”

New York Magazine: All Joy and No Fun — “From the perspective of the species, it’s perfectly unmysterious why people have children. From the perspective of the individual, however, it’s more of a mystery than one might think. Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so”

Resources For New Parents

Postpartum Support International, 1-800-944-4PPD (1-800-944-4773)

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Kestrel

    Parenting is the hardest job in the world, especially when the children are very little. This is because one is usually sleep deprived, and the job is 24/7 – unrelenting. One has to parent whether one is sick or tired or wanting time for oneself.
    The other problem is that there is no respect for the fact that parenting is real work – no salary, no one promoting you, no one taking you out to lunch, no one thinking what you do is important. How great it would be if society changed its attitude about this.
    Finally, the way our culture is set up is terrible when it comes to supporting new parents. Often grandparents, who can be the best support, live very far away. There is usually no family around to ease the burden, and parents then have to pay for a stranger to care for their child when necessary. I am sure tribal living was much easier on everyone.

  • nj_v2

    The answer to the program’s headline question seems obvious; no sleep for a year; complete re-ordering of priorities, potential strain on a relationship that may not have been all that strong to begin with…

    I wonder how this plays against the seeming cultural prejudice for having kids and against childless adults. “No, no kids” as an answer to “Do you have children?” often seems to be met with at least vague suspicion.

    When people have an opportunity to provide some brief, autobiographical information (think game show contestants), the loudest applause always seems to come after, “…and we’re the proud parents of five wonderful children.” as it this were some kind of profound accomplishment.

    • brettearle


    • Human2013

      …but it is a “profound accomplishment.” If it’s a profound accomplishment to move to an executive position in corporate America, than lets declare raising healthy children beyond profound.

      • nj_v2

        We often have no idea how most kids are raised. There are certainly enough social issues that might indicate that many parents aren’t doing an especially good job.

        The applause i was referring to often comes from the mere announcement of having the kids, aside from whatever kind of parenting being excercised.

        Simply churning out kids (more than 1.5 per family), in an age of environmental collapse, is really nothing to be proud of.

        • malkneil

          I hear your NJ. Having a kid in and of itself requires little of a pair of people save having sex. That being said I have no problem giving commendations to parents who have fought the good fight and raised kids well, especially in the face of adversity.

          • nj_v2

            No argument there!

        • brettearle

          Environmental collapse is only one factor–that might, or should, discourage a couple who are considering parenthood..

          There’s also:

          Economic burdens, more than ever

          Higher dysfunction in society, in general:
          Incivility, increased and excessive anxiety and mistrust, etc–compared to earlier decades.

          The degree of difficulty, in succeeding in one’s chosen profession, also, I believe, is higher now.

    • hennorama

      nj_v2 — no doubt in some individuals the hormonal extremes, as Ms. Belluck just pointed, are a contributing factor.

  • Human2013

    I hope this conversation will be in the context of the modern era of parenting. Parenting in an era of declining social support and an extractive economy.

    I wonder if their depressed because their infant’s childcare costs will cost more than their mortgage and utilities combined. Is it the fear that by the time they reach college age, the annual tuition will be $500K – no hyperbole there if the trend continues. Can it be that their employer will demand so much time and energy from them that there is little time left for their offspring.

    There is no greater joy in life than having children and our youth continue to be robbed of this opportunity. Young women around the country consider to cite a lack of financial resources as their main deterrent to having children. Now we are suppose to listen to an “expert” tell us how there never gonna make you happy anyway. I would not be surprised if these studies were funded by corporate America.

  • http://hlb-engineering.us/ HLB

    Why Are New Parents Depressed?

    Because they know their kids and grandkids are never going to leave their house!

  • jomuir

    wow I pray you don’t have children.

  • AC

    i’m not sure what to do with this information. many colleagues have had babies and continue to produce quality work. they don’t seem depressed. if the numbers are as high as you are saying, this is an unfair scrutiny they will have to suffer through in the workplace.

    • AC

      also, have you seen the price of diapers and childcare services? that is depressing!!! and i think men must feel it too….what are the MEN stats in this study??

    • jessie

      Hi AC, Just to advise you, I personally continued to produce high quality work but it came at great expense to my wellbeing. It was okay for my coworkers and clients but very hard on my ability to feel alright. I was just spent! No one could see that I was struggling because I made sure my work was perfect, as a freelance designer.

  • ChevSm

    What about men? You keep saying “new parents” but you are not mentioning fathers at all. They also go through episodes of depression, anxiety, etc.

  • skelly74

    I recently observed a young man pushing a baby stroller in 90 degree heat. He was on a busy street with cars speeding by him. He was shiftless, instead wearing it on his head like he was traversing the Sahara. The stoller was adorned with bulging grocery bags. He was certainly heading towards a well-known motel used to house homeless families.

    I felt depressed for him.

  • Boston_mom

    I did not have images of hurting my own children, nor did I hurt them physically, but I was terribly depressed after my second was born. My first was not even 2, we moved far away, had no family or friends and suddenly I was a woman who — two years before — had been a 30-year-old career woman and suddenly found myself alone, isolated, overwhelmed, alone, freelancing from home, and with a husband working a new job with long hours. I felt very inadequate, very sad, and still feel guilty for having too short of a fuse back in those days. I snapped when I should not have, my oldest still just a baby. My expectations were so unrealistic. I felt horribly guilty for not feeling the bliss other women talk about. I did not get help, though I did speak to my PCP. In hindsight, I should have insisted upon help. I’m pregnant again and I don’t think the circumstances will lead to that again, but I will jump into assistance with both feet if I feel that overwhelmed and awful again. AT least now I will recognize it for what it is. IT took me I would say almost a year to break out of that cycle.

  • Stephen706

    You know… a comprehensive FAMILY PHYSICIAN who does OB is trained in all these aspects and can/provide such care to patients from pre-conception, to prenatal, to delivery, to post-natal and continuity care after such, to include care of the baby. That’s what we are trained to do.

    Problem is our society doesn’t appreciate or even ACKNOWLEDGE and respect such a form of practice, as evidenced by your discussion.

  • anoninboston

    The worst thing to say to a mom who is struggling with anxiety and depression, as I did, is, “Oh, that’s just the hormones.” I understand that hormones play a part, but what you are feeling is real. I went through months of fixating on death (hers and mine) starting when my daughter was four months. I couldn’t sleep; sometimes it was hard to breathe. I felt terrible guilt about bringing a new life into the world. I tried to reach out to female family members about my experience, but unfortunately they dismissed it as “just hormones.” Luckily I spoke up for myself with medical practitioners and got help.

  • Carrie

    I am curious whether this study took breastfeeding into account at all. From what we hear about the hormones associated with breastfeeding, I wonder if that helps women to bond with their newborn or even get that hormone “high” (oxytocin) that could hold off these more negative feelings… I realize there are many many factors at play here, but is there any idea of the influence of breastfeeding? Anyone know? I luckily had an easy time with breastfeeding and never had any depression, but I hear about many women struggling with breastfeeding for various reasons. Would love to hear more about this possible connection.

  • ThatDudeOnABike

    This is a little off point, but I didn’t get really depressed until the post-divorce depression. Losing your kids in a divorce hurts like nothing else I ever experienced. I fully acknowledge the numerous challenges that mothers face, and new fathers. But the divorced fathers are lost in the equation.

  • keruffle

    Maybe baby
    Time regressed
    Chores, stores
    All fours
    Stuck Indoors
    Parent errant
    Free no more


  • jessie

    Hello to Brook who called in with worries about depression which arose after her second child. You are brave to call in and I wish I had done that too and found where to get help for almost debilitating anxiety and depression after my second child was born and went through a prolonged, months long, period of “colic”. After she was better I still felt the same way and I think in hindsight, I was just spent. I had my children in my late thirties and they were 15 months apart. The first one was easy and slept and was happy wherever we were. I felt well during a difficult, preeclampsia pregnancy and it was all the way I thought it would be including exhaustion but also bliss. The second child was not happy, had tummy issues and cried almost all the time. I began to feel oddly paralyzed as to what to do: i.e.:should I do the laundry? should I take them for a walk? should I make food for later? should I clean up? should I play with them or take a shower? I just felt so inadequate to deal with being alone…no family in our state, and felt like crying all the time. It persisted until I finally was advised to seek help and read about prozac which helped me enormously! My baby girl, continued to have tummy issuores but turned into a wonderful feisty and creative child with an enormous capacity for love. Please take care of yourself, Brook, find a peaceful place, a garden, anywhere and get there when you need to just breathe and rest your brain. Also, when it spirals into a feeling that is not one you can stand you know it is biochemical and please get prozac or some other SSRI. from your therapist or doctor. It made me feel like myself on a good or at least a normal day. Best to you and all women who have had to suffer alone with their anxiety and depression while trying to do their best with their babies and children.

  • pwparsons

    Missed a lot of this show, but am wondering if anyone has contrasted American “parenting” with other, more humane “industrialized nations’”, re: social/health care supports & the rates of mental “disturbances”/DX’s/SX’s. Why doesn’t America provide parental leave–paid, or unpaid, for instance, for parenting, and/or other supports? That would make an interesting program, rather than dwelling on the “pathologies” engendered (?) by our pervasive, cultural “austerities”…

  • S David H de Lorge

    I once knew an obstetrician-gynecologist who did an additional residency in psychiatry so that he could better treat his patients. I believe he also did a residency in internal medicine.

    Talk about a curious, dedicated guy. He enjoyed the whole process, such was his intellectual agility and energy. An ideal primary care physician for most any woman.

    • michelleobetts

      Jacqueline implied I’m taken by surprise that a mom can earn $8130 in 1 month
      on the computer . see post F­i­s­c­a­l­p­o­s­t­.­C­O­M­

  • Godzilla the Intellectual

    Postpartum Depression is DIRECTLY caused by the compartmentalization, modernization & complexity of society.

    Life is exponentially more complex in modernized and compartmentalized societies. in order to get through a normal day, it requires interfacing with multiple electronic devices, planning and interfacing with professionals and friends from multiple walks of life, and remembering numerous details to accomplish the most basic of daily tasks and routines.

    Because of the complexity of living a “normal” life, it is virtually impossible for a new parent to keep up with daily tasks AND take care of oneself.

  • Jj

    It is so important for new moms to have family support. But I’ve seen many young moms alienate family, friends and even spouses by isolating themselves with the child and then creating special rules and conditions for others to visit or help.

    I also want to add that the fear and stigma associated with any depression or emotional issue is real. Our society and work environments consistently marginalize people if they can’t keep up the pace.

  • Stacy48918

    There is no repeatable scientific evidence from credible sources to verify the efficacy of placenta encapsulation. You realize that primates do not eat their placentas in the wild, right? Your dog might, but great apes do not. This is hocus pocus voodoo.

    And I didn’t “raise my child well” because she is on formula? So you’re a lactivist as well? I’m sure that adding pressure to mothers that they can only “raise their child well” will really help their depression, sitting up late at night with blisters on their nipples struggling to breastfeed.

  • laurabien

    Echoing Stacy, there are no controlled studies to prove or disprove these claims, not to mention the placebo effect, which can be quite significant. You can’t argue that it is a form of cannibalism. As such I and other women find it disgusting.

    Also, I find it tacky for you to promote your blog on On Point. Please have the grace to not do that.

  • Stacy48918

    A basic anatomy and phys class would also help you to understand that all the “hormones” in a placenta would be completely destroyed and digested by the pH 2 HCl stomach acid and never reach the small intestine to be absorbed and thus have no systemic effect whatsoever.

    And if you’re trying to promote yourself you might proof what you write. You want to offer a service to “new moms and their family’s” (sic)? Yea.

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