New parents are susceptible to postpartum depression, and those who experienced childhood interpersonal trauma are at an even greater risk. Neglect, sexual, physical and psychological abuse, and bullying all increase an individual’s vulnerability during major life changes such as new parenthood. But what if a mindfulness practice could play a protective role against postpartum depression? The ability to anchor oneself in the present moment and observe without judgement could help cope with the challenges that surface when a child arrives and reduce the symptoms associated with depression.
That is precisely what the research led by Natacha Godbout, clinical psychologist and professor in the Department of Sexology at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), has shown. As part of the Couples parentaux project she codirects with her colleague Professor Alison Paradis in the Department of Psychology, she surveyed 843 Québec couples with children about their psychological wellbeing and the ways in which their relationship influences their mental health and their child’s development. The findings reveal the protective effect of mindfulness, which manifests itself differently in parents who have experienced childhood traumas: in mothers, observing their thoughts and emotions and tuning in to their child’s needs reduces the risk of postpartum depression, while fathers benefit from acting with awareness. Fathers also reported that the more supportive they are of their partner, the happier they are and the less stressed they are in their parental role. Acting with awareness would therefore be a protective factor for their mental health.
Being in a relationship with a partner who experienced multiple traumas can have collateral impacts by increasing their symptoms of postpartum depression. Nevertheless, anchoring oneself in the present moment has a protective effect on both partners. Natacha Godbout is of the opinion that a mindfulness practice could help break the cycle of intergenerational continuity in which children who grew up with parents who suffered from childhood trauma experience a lack of identity cohesion or psychological difficulties.