Depression in pregnant women may affect their interaction with their babies, a new study has found.
Researchers looked at the quality of mother-infant relationships at eight weeks and 12 months after the birth of the child.
The 131 participants in the study were divided into three groups consisting of 51 healthy women with no past or current depression, 28 women with a history of depression but healthy pregnancies and 52 women who suffered clinically significant depression during pregnancy.
Experts have revealed the findings highlight the need for greater support for pregnant women, particularly those who have previously experienced mental health issues.
"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," said Dr Rebecca Bind, lead author and Research Associate at Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King's College London.
The data showed that mothers with a history of depression and those who had suffered depression during pregnancy both displayed a reduced quality of interaction with their babies at eight weeks and 12 months.
At eight weeks, 62 per cent of the mothers who were depressed during pregnancy scored in the lowest category of relationship quality, compared to 37 per cent of women in the 'healthy' group.
However, the research showed that between eight weeks and 12 months all the groups had improved their quality of interaction, with experts insisting mothers and babies can develop a close relationship given time. The study also highlights the importance of postnatal support, in the form of professional advice and parenting courses.
"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," said senior author Carmine Pariante, Professor of Biological Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King's College London.
"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 quality of interaction was assessed using the Crittenden Child-Adult Relationship Experimental-Index, which considers facial expression, vocal expression, position and body contact, affection and arousal, turn-taking contingencies, control, and choice of activity. Mothers were analysed as they played with their babies during a three-minute interaction at both eight weeks post-birth and 12 months.
The findings were published in BJPsych Open.