An Overview of Baby Depression

Upset baby reaching for parent

 Blend Images - Stretch Photography/Getty Images

Infants don't have a life history to weigh them down or make them sad, but that doesn't mean they can't experience depression. Although it has not been proven via empirical studies, many mental health professionals do believe, based on case studies and clinical experience, that babies can and do become depressed. It's not common, however, with roughly one in 40 infants experiencing signs of depression.

Symptoms

According to experts, one of the primary ways to recognize depression in infants is their emotional vitality. In order to gauge this, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is my baby expressing a vibrant range of emotions?
  • Is my baby quiet and subdued?
  • Does my baby appear withdrawn, perhaps frequently staring into space?
  • Is it difficult to get the infant to engage with you socially?
  • Does my baby's facial expression appear sad (infrequent smiling)?

Although different babies will naturally have different personalities and temperaments, if this behavior represents a change from your child's normal behavior, it could be a sign of depression.

Rather surprisingly, crying is not necessarily a sign of a depressed baby. In fact, a depressed infant may get labeled as being a "good" baby because they do not cry or make a fuss that often.

Causes

There are several possible causes of depression in newborns. Like other types of childhood depression, genetics and brain chemistry can play a role in an infant's emotional health—as can the mental health of the parent or caregiver. Since babies learn a lot about their emotions from those around them, if a parent is suffering from depression, the baby may have a greater chance of developing it. Infants in poor or abusive homes are also at an increased risk.

Diagnosis

While it does appear that your baby is exhibiting some signs of a depressed mood, this does not necessarily mean that she is suffering from clinical depression. According to the Diagnostic Classification of Mental Health and Developmental Disorders of Infancy and Early Childhood (the DC:0-3R), which was published in 2005 by a non-profit organization called Zero to Three, the following five conditions should be met in order for a diagnosis of depression to be made in an infant:

  • The emotional and behavioral pattern must represent a change from what is typical for the child.
  • A depressed or irritable mood must be present every day, for most of the day, over a period of two weeks.
  • The depressed symptoms should occur in more than one activity and within more than one relationship.
  • The symptoms must cause the child distress, impair her functioning and/or impede her development.
  • The symptoms must not be due to a general medical condition, a medication or an environmental toxin.

Treatment

If your child has only been experiencing these symptoms for a few days, it may well be that they are simply going through a brief upset related to your absence which will quickly pass as they adjust to the return of your normal routine.

If your infant continues to have difficulties, you may wish to make an appointment with a parent-infant psychotherapist or other mental health professionals who have experience working with young children.

Although medications and therapy are not administered to children so young, a psychotherapist can work with you to help you better understand and fulfill your baby's needs so that she feels safe and secure in her environment. Music therapy and infant massage might also be viable options to help ease any symptoms of depression.

Coping

Deciphering the emotions of your infant is never easy and throwing the possibility of depression into the mix makes it even more daunting. After all, babies are unable to verbalize their mood or describe how they're feeling or what they're experiencing.

Perhaps the best way to cope is to take steps to protect your own mental health, which includes getting help if you're also living with depression or struggling with postpartum depression. If you are wondering at all if you might be experiencing postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety, set up an appointment with your obstetrician right away. Treatments are available.

A Word From VeryWell

Caring for your infant means caring for their physical as well as their emotional health. If you start early, you can make mental health a priority in your family and prevent depression from manifesting into more severe problems later in life. 

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.