Can Babies Get Depressed?

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Question: Can Babies Get Depressed?

I was away from my baby for a few days and now she is acting funny. She cried a lot and didn't want to eat while I was away. Now that I'm back she still doesn't smile or coo and she sometimes stares into space when I am talking to her. Could this behavior be a sign that she is depressed? Is it even possible for babies to become depressed?


Although it has not been proven via empirical studies, many mental health professionals do believe, based upon case studies and clinical experience, that babies can and do become depressed.

According to experts, one of the primary ways to recognize depression in an infant is her emotional vitality. In order to gauge this, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is she expressing a vibrant range of emotions? Or does she appear quiet and subdued?
  • Does she appear withdrawn, perhaps frequently staring into space?
  • Is it difficult to get her to engage with you socially?
  • Does her facial expression appear sad and she rarely smiles?

Although different babies will naturally have different personalities and temperaments, if this behavior represents a change from your child's normal behavior, it could be a sign that she is depressed. Rather surprisingly, however, crying is not necessarily a sign of a depressed baby. In fact, a depressed infant may get labelled as being a "good" baby because she does not cry or make a fuss that often.

While it does appear that your baby is exhibiting some signs of a depressed mood, this does not necessarily mean that she is suffering from clinical depression.

According to a manual called the Diagnostic Classification of Mental Health and Developmental Disorders of Infancy and Early Childhood (the DC:0-3R), which was published in 2005 by a non-profit organization called Zero to Three, the following five conditions should be met in order for a diagnosis of depression to be made in an infant:

  • The emotional and behavioral pattern must represent a change from what is typical for the child;
  • A depressed or irritable mood must be present everyday, for most of the day, over a period of two weeks;
  • The depressed symptoms should occur in more than one activity and within more than one relationship;
  • The symptoms must cause the child distress, impair her functioning and/or impede her development;
  • And, the symptoms must not be due to a general medical condition, a medication or an environmental toxin

Since your child has only been experiencing these symptoms for a few days, it may well be that she is simply going through a brief upset related to your absence which will quickly pass as she adjusts to the return of your normal routine. However, if she continues to have difficulties, you may wish to make an appointment with a parent-infant psychotherapist or other mental health professional who has experience working with young children. Although medications and therapy are not administered to children so young, a psychotherapist can work with you to help you better understand and fulfill your baby's needs so that she feels safe and secure in her environment.


"Early Experiences Count: How Emotional Development Unfolds Starting at Birth, Featuring Ross Thompson, Ph.D." Little Kids, Big Questions: A Parenting Podcast Series From ZERO TO THREE. ZERO TO THREE. Accessed: June 24, 2013.

Zeanah, Charles H., ed. Handbook of Infant Mental Health 3rd ed. New York: The Guilford Press, 2009.

Zero to Three. Diagnostic Classification of Mental Health and Developmental Disorders of Infancy and Early Childhood: Revised Edition. Washington: ZERO TO THREE Press, 2005.

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