Skip Navigation

News

March 6, 2006

Mother’s Depressive Symptoms Contribute Unfavorably to Parenting Practices

When mothers experience symptoms of depression after the birth of their children they are less likely to breastfeed, play with, read to or perform other interactive parenting tasks with their newborns, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Columbia University. The nationwide study is the largest to examine whether a mother’s depressive symptoms impact her parenting practices post partum. The results appear in the March 2006 edition of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

“Maternal depressive symptoms are very common in early infancy. We found nearly 18 percent of the mothers in our study reported experiencing some symptoms of depression two to four months after the birth of their children,” said Cynthia S. Minkovitz, MD, MPP, corresponding author of the study and a professor in the Department of Population and Family Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. “These symptoms clearly have an unfavorable impact on a mother’s parenting practices, particularly those that involve active engagement with the child. Our results highlight the importance of screening new mothers for depressive symptoms.”

Results from the study showed that 43.8 percent of mothers with depressive symptoms were likely to be breastfeeding at two to four months post partum compared to 56.9 percent of mothers who did not have depressive symptoms. At two to four months following birth, 87.4 percent of mothers with depressive symptoms were likely to play with their infants at least once a day compared to 91.9 percent of mothers without symptoms, and 22.4 percent of mothers with depressive symptoms were likely to show their children books compared to 28.2 percent without.

The presence of depressive symptoms did not appear to impact a mother’s adherence to safety practices, such as lowering the temperature of the home water heater and placing the infant in the correct sleeping position. In these instances, the researchers did not find any significant differences between mothers with and without depressive symptoms after factors such as the mothers’ age, income and level of education were considered. Overall, adherence to safety practices was high among all study participants.

The results of the study are based on an analysis of 4,874 mothers from 15 pediatric care sites nationwide conducted by Minkovitz, lead author Kathryn Taafe McLearn, PhD, formerly with the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, and colleagues. The participants were drawn from the National Evaluation of Healthy Steps for Young Children and were surveyed about their backgrounds when they entered the study, and then about their depressive symptoms and parenting practices two to four months following the birth of their child.

“Maternal Depressive Symptoms at 2 to 4 Months Post Partum and Early Parenting Practices” was written by Kathryn Taafe McLearn, PhD; Cynthia S. Minkovitz, MD, MPP; Donna M. Strobino, PhD; Elisabeth Marks; MPH, and William Hou, MS.

Funding for the study was provided by The Commonwealth Fund.

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna Lowe at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.