Signs of Post-Adoption Depression


New mothers might be aware of the "baby blues" or Post-Partum Depression (PPD) that comes after pregnancy and delivery. According to Science Daily, up to 70-50% of new mothers will experience a brief episode of feeling depressed, irritable, uninterested in pleasurable activities, or experiencing excessive worry or guilt. Approximately 10% of new moms will go on to develop full PPD. Professionals agree that Post-Partum Depression requires treatment in order to relieve symptoms. Research has demonstrated that PPD can have a negative impact on the bond between mother and child.

Adopting families need to be aware of a similar phenomenon that can occur after adoption. As Brooke Randolph has written in this blog, a successful adoption is followed by a difficult and challenging period of adjustment. These challenges can lead to the development of post-adoption depression symptoms. First identified as Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome (PADS) by June Bond in 1995, PADS symptoms may include: depressed mood, irritability, disinterest in enjoyable activities, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, feeling worthless or very guilty, having trouble concentrating, and even suicidal thoughts.

A recent study by Purdue University, led by Karen J. Foli, an assistant professor of nursing, identified factors that increase the likelihood that a parent may experience some of these symptoms after an adoption. By collecting data through “Journey to Me,” an online support organization for adopting parents, Foli was able to identify two major factors that indicated parents would be more likely to struggle with post-adoption depression. The survey included 300 mothers that had adopted within the past two years. The average age of the children at adoption was 4.6 years.

The largest predictor was feeling tired. According to Foli, on-going fatigue was the number one common factor among parents who adopted and later developed depression. She suggested part of the problem may be reduced social support for adopting parents, as opposed to social support provided to natural birth parents.

The second major factor common among these mothers was unrealistic expectations of themselves as mothers, of the child, and of the bonding experience. Unrealistic expectations are also a contributing factor to Post-Partum Depression after childbirth. Foli reports that most adopting mothers expect to be able to bond quickly with their adoptive child and feel excessive guilt and shame if this does not occur.

These study results support the importance and value of the education classes provided by MLJ Adoptions. Learning how to talk about adoption with others and being prepared for the adjustment period challenges will help decrease the risk of Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome. MLJ provides additional support before and after the adoption to help meet the needs of new and expecting parents.

While having your adopted child home at last may be a wonderful experience, we need to remember that, just like natural child birth, not every new mom is transported on a cloud of delight. If your family members are celebrating around you and you are feeling overwhelmed, irritable, and unhappy, know that you are not alone in this experience.

Sometimes the reality isn’t what we dreamed it would be. In this case, please consider reaching out to MLJ. We are here to help all families involved with adoption, to support new families struggling with attachment, and to support new parents facing more stress than they imagined. We will not judge, or wonder if we placed a child with the wrong family. It’s all part of the journey. Let us help you be a better parent for your child.

Photo Credit: Rick Sampson

MLJ Adoptions is a Non-Profit, Hague-Accredited adoption service provider located in Indianapolis, Indiana, working in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Isles. We are passionate about serving children in need.