Previous maternal depression can affect the mother-baby bond

Mothers who experience depression during pregnancy or who have a history of depression are more likely to have reduced quality of interaction with their babies up to one year after birth. — AFP

Research led by King’s College London in the United Kingdom has found that women with depression during pregnancy, or with a history of depression, had a reduced quality of mother-infant interaction at both eight weeks and 12 months after their babies were born.

The researchers looked at the quality of mother-infant interactions at those two time periods after birth in three groups of 131 women:

  • 51 healthy women
  • 52 women with clinically-significant depression during pregnancy, and
  • 28 women with a lifetime history of depression, but not during pregnancy.

At both eight weeks and 12 months, mothers and babies in the depression and history-only groups displayed a reduced quality of interaction.

Specifically, at eight weeks, 62% of the group of mothers with depression during pregnancy and 56% of the group of mothers with a history of depression scored in the lowest category of relationship quality, where therapeutic interventions are recommended, compared with 37% in the healthy group.

All mother and baby groups improved in their quality of interaction between eight weeks and 12 months, which researchers say indicates that with time, all mothers and their babies can become more attuned to each other.

At six days, newborn babies of mothers in the depression and history-only groups had decreased social-interactive behaviour.

This, together with maternal socioeconomic difficulties, was also predictive of a reduced quality of interaction, while postnatal depression was not.

The relationship between mothers and infants was assessed using the Crittenden Child-Adult Relationship Experimental Index, which assesses “dyadic synchrony” – a term that describes the quality of the relationship as a whole.

Researchers analysed films of three-minute interactions filmed at eight weeks and 12 months after birth.

Mothers played with their babies while researchers scored the relationship based on seven aspects of behaviour:

  • Facial expression
  • Vocal expression
  • Position and body contact
  • Affection and arousal
  • Turn-taking contingencies
  • Control, and
  • Choice of activity.

Lead author and King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience research associate Dr Rebecca Bind says: “Our findings suggest that perinatal mental health professionals should offer support not only to women with depression during pregnancy, but also to pregnant women with a history of depression, as they may also be at risk of interaction difficulties.

“Future research should try to understand why a history of depression, despite a healthy perinatal period, may impact the developing relationship.”

Senior author and consultant perinatal psychiatrist Professor Dr Carmine Pariante adds: “We recommend that healthcare professionals provide pregnant women at risk of interaction difficulties with examples of positive caregiving behaviours, and with ways to engage their babies and understand their needs, all of which could be incorporated into parenting and birth classes and health visits.

“We also suggest that interventions that can help the mother-infant interaction should be made more widely available, such as video feedback, where a clinician and mother discuss what behaviours work best to engage and comfort the baby, and structured mother-baby activities, such as art and singing groups.

“This is especially important because we know that the early years are vital for future mental health and wellbeing.”

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