More Than Just the Blues

Post-adoption depression is more common than you think. How to recognize your symptoms — and get the help you need.

Recognizing post-adoption depression is vital

"I don't know what's the matter. I was so happy when we brought our baby home, but now I cry every day. I can barely pick up the baby, and I feel so alone. My baby doesn't seem to respond to me. What's wrong with me?"

As a psychologist who specializes in adoption, I've often heard cries for help like this from new parents. A few years ago, we were at a loss to explain such feelings. But in 1995, adoption advocate June Bond coined the term Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome (PADS) after meeting many new moms who experienced feelings of sadness, despair, panic, and disconnect with their babies.

If you've had similar feelings — which can be utterly confusing after the dream-come-true experience of adoption — know that that PADS may affect one of every 10 new adoptive mothers. Further, as many as 65% of adoptive parents experience some depression after adopting their children.

Why does this happen? New adoptive parents never expect to feel anything but bliss. But for many, the long road to parenthood culminates in unrealistic expectations. So, after the baby comes home, reality sets in — hard. Add to this the demands of caring for a young child, and the idea of PADS isn't so strange.

Taking Care of You — and Baby

If you think you may be experiencing PADS, don't try to tough it out. Instead, take extra-good care of yourself, as you stay attuned to your new baby's needs. Here's how:

  • Mind your health. Take naps, eat thoughtfully (more fresh fruit and vegetables, less caffeine and sugar), go for walks, and cut back on outside obligations when possible. Caring for your body will decrease the negative effects of depression and stress.
  • Ask for support. Allow friends or family members to help you with household chores and some baby care.
  • Find some down time. Build in some time away from your baby to relax and clear your mind. Breathing deeply and getting quiet will ease stress.
  • Give yourself time to bond. Not all mothers — adoptive or birth — have an instant connection with their babies. Don't be hard on yourself if you don't feel that "magic bond." But remember that withholding physical affection can delay a child's development, so keep cuddling your child to benefit both of you.
  • Connect with other adoptive parents. Join an adoption play group or parent group for support and understanding.
  • Seek professional help. If self-help methods don't work and post-adoption depression persists, ask your physician and/or your adoption social worker for a referral to a qualified mental-health professional who understands concerns surrounding adoption.
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Signs of Depression

If you're struggling with three or more of these symptoms, seek professional help.

  • Loss of interest in being around others or engaging with your new baby or toddler.
  • On the verge of tears many times in a day.
  • General fatigue, along with irritability.
  • Sleeping too much or too little.
  • Significant weight gain or loss.
  • Excessive or inappropriate guilt.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Feelings of worthlessness, powerlessness, or hopelessness.
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