Mothers’ depression impacts mother-infant relationships

In a study funded by National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) researchers examined whether depression, either before or during pregnancy, affects the mother-infant relationship. The research was published today (Tuesday 25 May) in BJPsych Open.

Researchers looked at the quality of mother-infant interactions eight weeks and 12 months after birth in three groups of women; healthy women, women with clinically-significant depression in pregnancy, and women with a lifetime history of depression but healthy pregnancies.

The study used a sample of 131 women: 51 healthy mothers with no current or past depression, 52 mothers with depression referred to the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust Perinatal Psychiatry Services, and 28 ‘history-only’ mothers with a history of depression but no current diagnosis.

Quality of interaction

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% in the group of mothers with depression during pregnancy and 56% in the group of mothers with a history-only 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 8 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, new-born babies of mothers in the depression and history-only groups had decreased social-interactive behaviour, which, together with maternal socio-economic difficulties, was also predictive of a reduced quality of interaction, while postnatal depression was not.

Dr Rebecca Bind, lead author and Research Associate at Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, 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 Carmine Pariante, Professor of Biological Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London and Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“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.”

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 postnatal. 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. The researchers are grateful to the women and their infants who participated in the PRAM-D study and to everyone on the study team who recruited, collected, and analysed data.

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Notes to editors

Contact

To receive a copy of the embargoed paper or to arrange interviews please contact the Communications team at NIHR Maudsley BRC:

* Franca Davenport, Communications and Engagement Manager, NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre, [email protected]

* Serena Rianjongdee, Communications and Engagement Officer, NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre, [email protected]

About King’s College London and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience

King’s College London is one of the top 10 UK universities in the world (QS World University Rankings, 2020) and among the oldest in England. King’s has more than 31,000 students (including more than 12,800 postgraduates) from some 150 countries worldwide, and some 8,500 staff.

The Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London is the premier centre for mental health and related neurosciences research in Europe. It produces more highly cited outputs (top 1% citations) on mental health than any other centre (SciVal 2019) and on this metric we have risen from 16th (2014) to 4th (2019) in the world for highly cited neuroscience outputs. World-leading research from the IoPPN has made, and continues to make, an impact on how we understand, prevent and treat mental illness and other conditions that affect the brain.

http://www.kcl.ac.uk/ioppn @KingsIoPPN

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)

NIHR is the nation’s largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

Funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care

Engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research

Attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future

Invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services

Partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy

The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR supports applied health research for the direct and primary benefit of people in low- and middle-income countries, using UK aid from the UK government.

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