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Exhaustion Can Lead to Post-Adoption Blues in New Mothers

Fatigue and exhaustion are the largest predictors of depression in adoptive mothers, according to a new Purdue University study.

“We didn’t expect to see this, and we aren’t sure if the fatigue is a symptom of the depression or if it is the parenting experience that is the source of the fatigue,” said Karen J. Foli, Ph.D., an assistant professor of nursing.

The lack of a social support system also can contribute to depression, she said. “A common thread in my research has been an assumption that if the mom didn’t carry the child for nine months or go through a physical labor, the parents don’t need help in the same manner as birth mothers do.”

Other predictors of depression in adoptive mothers included expectations of themselves as mothers, of the child, and of family and friends, perceived support from friends, self-esteem, marital satisfaction, and parent and child bonding.

These findings, published this month in Advances in Nursing Science, are based on a survey of 300 mothers who had adopted within the past two years. The average age of the children at the time of the adoption was 4.6 years.

There are nearly 1.8 million adopted children in the United States, and Foli’s previous work found that unrealistic and unmet expectations related to parenting, bonding with the child, and support from family and friends were common themes related to depression.

Knowing what factors trigger post-adoption depression can help plan effective interventions, she said, noting that nurses, whether working in a pediatric setting or the mother’s doctor office, could assess for fatigue in adoptive mothers. It’s also important for health care professionals, family members and others to realize that not all adoptions are equal.

“Bonding with the children often comes up in post-adoption depression. If adoptive mothers cannot bond to their child as quickly as they expected, they commonly report feeling guilt and shame,” Foli said.

“These parents have the expectation to quickly attach to the child and they see themselves as super-parents. But what happens when the child they adopt is a teething toddler or unknown special needs surface? It’s a difficult stage for a parent who has known that child for two years, let alone someone who is establishing a new relationship with the child.”

The study also showed that depressive symptoms were more likely higher for mothers who did not have the complete background or biographical information about children, who, after placement, were considered special needs children. However, depression was not correlated with parents who were aware they were receiving a child with known special needs.

“We also found that mothers of children with different ethnic or racial backgrounds did not report more depressive symptoms than those mothers who did not differ from their children’s ethnic or racial backgrounds,” Foli said. “Interestingly, these moms did report perceiving that society was less accepting of their adoptive family.”

Source: Purdue University

Exhaustion Can Lead to Post-Adoption Blues in New Mothers

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Exhaustion Can Lead to Post-Adoption Blues in New Mothers. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 27 Mar 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.