Depression in mothers affects mother-infant relationship

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A recent study examined whether the quality of a mother’s relationship with their infant will be affected by a history of depression.

Psychologists have long been interested in the importance of a mother’s relationship with her child, and in particular, how depression in mothers may affect that relationship.

Many studies have examined the effects of mothers’ mood during pregnancy and after birth. Few, however, have looked into the effects of depression in mothers prior to pregnancy.

One such study, conducted in the United Kingdom, wanted to see whether mothers who experienced depression during pregnancy, or during their lifetime before pregnancy, had different relationships with their infants.

As published in BJPsych Open, 131 women participated in this study. Fifty-two of these women were diagnosed with depression during pregnancy, 28 had a history of depression but a healthy pregnancy, and the remainder had no history of depression.

Investigating the mother-infant relationship

The researchers assessed the behavior of the infant at six days after birth, as well as assessing the mother-infant relationship at eight weeks and 12 months. The assessments were conducted using an index that measures ‘dyadic synchrony’, a term used to describe the quality of the relationship as a whole. To do this, the researchers analyzed short films of mothers’ interactions with their infants, looking for factors such as facial expression, vocal expression, body contact, affection and arousal, and more.

The results showed that, in both the depression and history-only groups, there was a reduced quality of interaction at eight weeks and 12 months, compared to the healthy group. In addition, infants in both groups displayed less social-interactive behavior at six days, which predicted future interaction quality (together with socioeconomic difficulties).

What the study suggests

These results indicate that mental health treatment should be offered not only to mothers who experience depression during and after pregnancy, but to all mothers who experienced depression in their lifetime. While more research is needed, the authors suggest that healthcare professionals incorporate examples of positive caregiving behaviors into parenting and birth classes, or health visits.

Reference: Bind, R., Biaggi, A., Bairead, A., Du Preez, A., Hazelgrove, K., Waites, F., . . . Pariante, C. (2021). Mother–infant interaction in women with depression in pregnancy and in women with a history of depression: The Psychiatry Research and Motherhood – Depression (PRAM-D) study. BJPsych Open, 7(3), E100. doi:10.1192/bjo.2021.52

Image by bingngu93 from Pixabay 

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