How grandparents can help parents with depression

When my youngest child was young, I remember learning that a colleague, who also had a young child, was training for a marathon.

Between working full-time and parenting, just getting dinner on the table in those days required Herculean effort. The idea of ​​adding regular exercise to my schedule felt as distant as another planet.

I finally realized that my colleague had a secret weapon: A live-in grandmother, available to babysit at a moment’s notice.

The impact of grandparental support

The support of a grandparent can make a big difference to a mother’s well-being, even when they don’t live under the same roof. In a study published this year of more than 400,000 Finnish mothers of children 12 and under, researchers found that when grandparents were available, mothers were less likely to fill prescriptions for antidepressants.

We found that these Mothers are less likely to buy antidepressants if their parents are younger than 70, employed and do not have serious health problems, Niina Mets-Simola, a professor at the University of Helsinki and a lead researcher on the study, told HuffPost. Women whose parents still lived together, or who lived near one of their children’s grandparents, were also less likely to use antidepressants.

Of course, not everyone with depression seeks treatment, and not everyone diagnosed with depression takes medication for it. Prescription numbers are only one way of estimating the prevalence of depression in a population.

Maternal grandparents were more likely to have a positive influence than paternal grandparents. That wasn’t a surprise to the researchers, Mets-Simola said. It is known from previous studies that maternal grandparents, especially maternal grandmothers, provide more support and are more involved in their grandchildren’s lives compared to paternal grandparents.

Another study published this year, for example, found that maternal grandmothers invested in their grandchildren’s lives can protect them from the negative impact of experiencing multiple traumatic events.

Mets-Simola and her co-authors found that grandparents seemed to have even more influence on mothers who separated from their partners. Differences in maternal depression by grandparents’ characteristics were larger among separated mothers than non-separated mothers, especially during the years before the separation, Mets-Simola said.

The study did not track what kind of help, specifically, mothers received from grandparents, but grandparents often provide childcare or financial support.

Several factors affect the likelihood that grandparents will be able to help: age, employment and health status. Our findings suggest that characteristics of grandparents associated with increased potential to provide support and decreased need to receive support predict a lower likelihood of maternal depression, particularly among mothers who are separating, Mets-Simola said. .

Finland, where the study took place, offers much more support to parents than Kela, the Finnish social security institution, providing new parents with 320 days of paid parental leave to share between them. In addition, all families receive child benefit, check the amount determined by the number of children they have each month until the child turns 17.

Since the study was conducted in a country that helps parents with money and childcare, the impact of grandparent support may go beyond this.

The findings suggest that intergenerational exchanges of support matter for maternal depression, even in the context of a Nordic welfare state, Mets-Simola said.

While this study was limited to the effects of grandparent support on mothers, we can be fairly certain that these benefits extend to children, as we know that children do better when their mothers are not depressed.

The link between maternal depression and adverse child outcomes is well established, Mets-Simola said.

How grandparents can help

Grandparent support can begin with the arrival of the baby. Grandparents who have a strong relationship with their children are uniquely positioned to provide invaluable support during the fragile postpartum period, Princess McKinney-Kirk, a postpartum doula and author of a book on bonding, told HuffPost. abdomen after birth.

Isolation and lack of support is one of the biggest precursors to postpartum depression, she said, noting that traditional postpartum care rituals from around the world provide just that kind of support. In its absence, or not getting enough food or sleep, new parents are more likely to experience problems such as brain fog, anxiety, baby blues, mood disorders and prolonged recovery, McKinney-Kirk said. .

Grandparents often bring a deeper layer of connection and comfort to a new mother, McKinney-Kirk said. Their involvement can significantly increase the well-being of mother and newborn, providing essential support that fosters a healthy mother-child relationship.

In addition to offering words of encouragement and gentle guidance (when asked), she suggested the following ways for grandparents to provide postpartum support for new parents:

  • Cook favorite meals and freeze them during your visit, or give gift cards to restaurants or meal delivery services (not those that require cooking)

  • Do chores like folding laundry, washing dishes, or taking out the trash.

  • Provide childcare for older siblings.

  • Offer to hold the baby so a parent can shower or eat a meal with two hands.

  • Pay for the parent to receive recovery care, perhaps from a lactation consultant, physical therapist, acupuncturist, chiropractor, or psychologist.

McKinney-Kirk emphasized that part of caring for a new baby means caring for the person who was just born.

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