No one can deny the critical role that mental health and in particular, maternal mental health, has on the healthy, social, behavioural and cognitive development of an infant. We have full understanding of the effect that the quality of the maternal-infant relationship has on the development of the infants brain and its mental functions (1). During pregnancy, maternal anxiety can harm the development of the infants brain with consequences on the infants behaviour (2). Maternal anxiety has been associated with a difficult toddler disposition (3), an increase in infant cortisol levels (4) and behavioural difficulties in childhood (5). Stress during pregnancy increases the risk of attention deficit and hyperactivityς, anxiety and speech delay (6) as well as future mental health problems (7).
Maternal mental health after childbirth has consequences on nursing and milestone developments of the infant. In addition, postpartum depression hinders the mother-infant relationship and the infant has a higher risk of developing insecure attachment and psychopathology (8), that can negatively influence his/her cognitive development (9).
Research reveals that infant mental health is rooted in the ability of parents to respond and care for their babies needs. We also know that the mental state of the mother is the single most important factor in infant mental health. The infant-mother relationship, whether we like it or not, is critical to the development of future mental health in our communities. What is the link between infancy and adulthood? How does an adult become responsible for his/her actions and useful in society? The answers are given indirectly through the relationship between mother and infant.
- Bowlby, J. Attachment and Loss. 1969.; Fonagy, P., Steele, M., Higgit, A. & Target, M. (1994). Theory and practice of resilience. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 35, 231-257; Schore, A.N. (2001). Effects of a secure attachment relationship on right brain development, affect regulation, and infant mental health. Infant Mental Health Journal, Vol. 22., 7-66; Siegel, D.J. (2001). Toward an interpersonal neurobiology of the developing mind: Attachment relationships, “mindsight,” and neural integration. Infant Mental Health Journal, Vol. 22, 67-94.
- Glover & O’Connor (2002). Effects of antenatal stress and anxiety. British Journal of Psychiatry, 180 (5) 389-391; DOI: 10.1192/bjp.180.5.389
- Grant et al. (2009). Maternal prenatal anxiety, postnatal caregiving and infants’ cortisol responses to the still-face procedure.Developmental Psychobiology. 51(8):625-37. doi: 10.1002/dev.20397.
- O’Connor, T. G., Heron, J., Golding, J., et al (2002) Maternal antenatal anxiety and children’s behavioural/emotional problems at 4 years. Report from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. British Journal of Psychiatry, 180, 502 -508
- Talge et al (2007). Antenatal maternal stress and long-term effects on child neurodevelopment: how and why? Journal of Child Psychology Psychiatry;48(3-4):245-61.
- O’Connor et al 2002
- Murray, L. & Cooper, P.J. (1997). Effects of postnatal depression on infant development. Arch Dis Child 1997;77:99-101 doi:10.1136/adc.77.2.99; Murray, L. (2009). The development of children of postnatally depressed mothers: evidence from the Cambridge longitudinal study. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, 23 (3). pp. 185-199. ISSN 0266-8734 doi: 10.1080/02668730903227289
- Milgrom, J., Westley, D., & Gemmill, A.W.(2004). The mediating role of maternal responsiveness in some longer-term effects of postnatal depression on infant development. Infant Behavior & Development;27:443–454. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2004.03.003.