Cries from Baby, Tears from Mama

Postpartum depression more likely among moms whose babies cry inconsolably

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) You are a new mom, and your baby cries… and cries… and cries. Nothing you do seems to help. At the very least though, you can watch out for yourself.

A recent study found that mothers of babies who often cry and cannot be soothed may be at higher risk for postpartum depression.

Mothers of inconsolable criers may actually be at higher risk for depression than moms of babies with colic.

"Call a therapist if you feel depressed."

The study, led by Jenny S. Radesky, MD, of the Department of Pediatrics at Boston Medical Center and Boston University, looked for a possible link between postpartum depression and how often mothers reported that their babies cried.

The researchers tracked 587 new mothers from their child's birth until two months later.

About five to six weeks after giving birth, the mothers filled out how often their babies fussed, cried or cried inconsolably. "Inconsolable" crying is "crying that cannot be soothed."

The mothers tracked this information for four days, which was then averaged to determine the amount of inconsolable crying per 24 hour period.

Meanwhile, the women were assessed using a postpartum depression clinical test when their babies were born and then two months later.

The researchers compared the mothers' records of their babies' crying with the changes in their postpartum depression scores when their children were 2 months old.

At the 2 month mark, 10 percent of the women (60 mothers) met the threshold for "possible depression" on the postpartum depression measure.

Mothers who reported that their babies cried inconsolably for more than 20 minutes each day were four times more likely to meet that threshold for possible depression.

However, the mothers whose babies had colic were only twice as likely to meet the threshold for possible depression.

Both these higher risks of postpartum depression in mothers of babies who cried more remained even when the researchers adjusted their analysis to account for the mothers' depression scores at the start of the study.

The researchers concluded that mothers who report their babies cry inconsolably may be at a higher risk for postpartum depression than mothers of babies with colic.

Colic is different from reports of inconsolable crying because it has a very specific definition.

A baby with colic cries for at least three hours for at least three days a week for at least three weeks. The crying usually occurs in the late afternoons or early evening.

A baby with inconsolable crying could occur any time and without an apparent pattern.

"Asking a mother about her ability to soothe her infant may be more relevant for potential intervention than questions about crying and fussing duration alone," the researchers suggested.

The researchers also explored possible reasons for the link between inconsolable crying and postpartum depression.

The crying is already linked to higher levels of frustrations in the parents, which might contribute to more stress and less confidence in their parenting skills.

Mothers who begin to feel helpless may be at higher risk for symptoms of postpartum depression.

However, the researchers could not say that the babies' crying caused the postpartum depression. The two circumstances could have developed together.

The study was published May 6 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and Canada Research Chairs.

One author, Ms. Barr, is the executive director of the nonprofit National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, and her husband, the author Dr. Barr, is a former International Advisory Board member of the nonprofit.

The nonprofit also holds the trademark for The Period of PURPLE Crying, and from 2007 forward, royalties from sales of these products are shared in part by Dr. Barr.

PURPLE materials are mentioned in the study's conclusion section as one possible intervention to help support parents dealing with a crying child. This mention could be a financial conflict of interest for Dr. Barr and the nonprofit, but the study was not designed to evaluate the effectiveness of PURPLE products.

No other conflicts of interest were reported by the authors.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 5, 2013
Last Updated:
October 31, 2013