5 Ways to Banish the Post-Adoption Blues

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Biological mothers aren't the only ones who might get depressed after a new child arrives. Here, nursing professor Karen J. Foli shares tips to help adoptive parents cope.

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The unexpected and exhausting demands of parenthood may lead to post-adoption depression, according to new Purdue University research.

"Feeling tired was by far the largest predictor of depression in mothers who adopted," says Karen J. Foli, the study's lead author. "It may be reflective of a lacking social support system that adoptive parents receive."

Foli and co-authors Susan C. South and Eunjung Lim surveyed 300 mothers of kids who were 4.6 years old on average when they were adopted for their research in Advances in Nursing Science. They found that many of the respondents assumed they wouldn't require as much help as birth mothers since they didn't carry the child or go through labor. They also uncovered other predictors of the post-adoption blues, including poor self-esteem, marital problems, difficulty in parent-child bonding, and perceived lack of support from family and friends.

For Professional Help, Foli repurposes her team's work and shares five tips for adoptive parents who may be overwhelmed with the latest additions to their families.


Remember that you're not alone. Though it's easy to believe that you're the only adoptive parent who's struggling, our research shows that approximately 18 to 26 percent of new adoptive mothers deal with depressive symptoms. You may feel intense shame and guilt, and have thoughts like, "I'm a horrible monster. No one else feels this way." Don't listen to them; they'll only weaken your self-esteem. Instead, keep in mind that parenting a child can be a very challenging experience -- for anyone. Give yourself permission to feel what you're feeling and remind yourself that you're going to get through this with help and support.

Bonding with your child may take time. You've waited months, often years, for your kid to come home. This is a goal that you've planned for and anticipated through every step of the adoption process. Why, then, does your child not feel like your child? The answer is simple. As mothers have reported, it often takes time to bond with a child and, similarly, your kid may need time to get attached, depending on what his or her experiences were prior to coming home to you. He may have experienced less than optimal conditions in his birth home that makes trust and emotional commitment difficult. Remember, it's a new relationship for both of you.

Get enough rest. One of the biggest contributors to post-adoption depression that we found in our research was that mothers didn't feel rested. Because adoptive mothers don't go through labor and delivery, they often overlook the physical demands of a new child and don't get the support they need. Also, continue to do what you enjoy in life. If it's gardening, then try to make time for this. We all get psychologically "recharged" in different ways. Be sure to get some sleep so that you can be engaged, energetic, and enthused with your kid.

Examine your expectations. Adoptive parents sometimes forget that the end of the adoption process is really the beginning of parenting. Because of the intense scrutiny that they undergo in the screening phase, they may feel that they have to be "super parents," a title that is hard to live up to once the child is placed. Be sure that your expectations are as realistic as possible. We found that the expectations mothers held about themselves, their child, their family, and their friends contribute to their depressive symptoms. Don't be afraid tell and explain to your partner, family, and friends that you need support.

Seek help for yourself and for the benefit of your child and family. We know from the literature that surrounds postpartum depression that kids experience negative effects from parents who struggle with depression. Research in adoptive parent households indicates the same patterns. Don't hesitate to ask for help. Find a professional who is "adoption smart or competent" and understands the dynamics of adoptive families. Educate yourself on the unique developmental and unique needs of your child so that you can guide him in the best way possible.

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Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

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