Genetic Variations Found in Mothers with Caregiving Deficits

Maternal caregiving has been shown to have a tremendous impact on a child’s outcome, physically and emotionally. Mothers who have depression tend to be more detached from their parenting role and show less warmth and support to their children than mothers without depression. Similarly, mothers who themselves experienced childhood adversity, including neglect, maltreatment, abuse, and abandonment, are at increased risk for parenting disruptions. But until recently, the role of genetic differences in mothers with these impairments and without has not been studied thoroughly. To address this and explore how genetic variations impact the caregiving a mother provides, Viara Milleva-Seitz of the Institute of Medical Science at the University of Toronto in Canada examined how 187 mothers interacted with their infants.

Milleva-Seitz looked at several oxytocin gene receptors and also considered the type of childhood maltreatment, abuse or neglect the mothers had experienced. The participants reported their levels of prenatal and postpartum depression and also detailed the type of support they received from caregivers during their own childhoods. Milleva-Seitz discovered that the mothers who had polymorphisms in the oxytocin receptors had higher levels of vocalizing toward their infant than those without the altered genes. Additionally, the mothers with gene alterations were at increased risk of impaired caregiving if they had significant traumas or abuses during their childhoods.

When Milleva-Seitz examined the results further, it was discovered that postpartum depression did not directly affect instrumental infant care. However, certain oxytocin gene receptor alterations did affect the likelihood of mothers developing postpartum depression. Further, specific oxytocin genes were associated with prenatal depression, but not postpartum depression. These results underscore the importance of looking at all variables associated with risk for impaired caregiving. They also suggest that a mother’s genetic make-up has a large influence on caregiving and, ultimately, the psychological and physical outcome of her children. Milleva-Seitz added, “Finally, our findings highlight the importance of examining multiple dimensions of human maternal behavior in studies of genetic associations.”

Mileva-Seitz, V., Steiner, M., Atkinson, L., Meaney, M.J., Levitan, R., et al. (2013). Interaction between oxytocin genotypes and early experience predicts quality of mothering and postpartum mood. PLoS ONE 8(4): e61443. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0061443

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Julia


    May 10th, 2013 at 10:05 AM

    So interesting, but not surprising. Whenever I see a parent has committed some horrible thing to her child, I think, “What is wrong with people?” I guess this study answers that question.

  • Papa Smurf

    Papa Smurf

    May 10th, 2013 at 10:08 AM

    i know it is sooooo sad at any age but it just breaks my heart to see moms who are mean to there kids in the grocery store especially the little ones like three fore five years old. i can’t stand to see those babies jerked around by the people they trust the most i can’t imagine what must go through there heads i mean what do they tell themselves they must think they are horrible people. and don’t deserve love which is the worst.

  • L LeBreeze

    L LeBreeze

    May 10th, 2013 at 10:11 AM

    A mom who has depression. Well that must be so hard.
    I have depression but I made sure I couldn’t have no kids. To pass it on to.
    Depression can make you so irritable. And make you get so inside your own head.
    Tough to imagine trying to deal with a kid. Or even more than one.
    It wouldn’t be fair to anyone not you. Or the kid(s).
    I know I am missing out but I have to do it for the sake of the kids I would have.

  • Aunt Sandra

    Aunt Sandra

    May 10th, 2013 at 10:13 AM

    My niece was abused. She was just a little thing when it happened. Anyways, she has the hardest time being a mama now. So I ahve to agree with what they are saying here. If you are abused it’s real hard to be a good mom. My heart goes out to her and her kids. Pray for ’em every day.

  • Gerald


    May 10th, 2013 at 10:17 AM

    Truly worthwhile research. The more we can attempt to understand the science behind abuse or neglect, the more chance we have of making real change and drastically reducing the number of kids living in abusive or neglectful environments. I cannot wait until the day no child has to know anything but a loving home. I am probably an incurable optimist, but I really do believe this can happen. With the right research and carefully planned research to treatment scenarios, we can make a huge difference. Every child deserves to have a loving home in which they are not fundamentally changed and challenged through no fault of their own.

  • Quin


    May 10th, 2013 at 10:19 AM

    This abuse/neglect stuff just drives me insane. Knock it off already! Geez!!

  • Jammes


    May 10th, 2013 at 10:22 AM

    I personally? Had no idea that the postpartum stuff was so bad for some moms. Well, until that Andrea whatever lady drowned her kids in a bathtub. Hard to believe somebody could do that. To their own kids especially. I don’t know whatever happened to her but I hope they buried her. Under the jail.

    I know that the postpartum can not be somebody’s fault. But surely it ain’t so bad it drives you to not know right from wrong.

  • Cally


    May 10th, 2013 at 10:24 AM

    Weeeeellll, I guess that explains a lot in regards to my mom. I always knew she wasn’t right in the head! Haha!

  • Madison


    May 10th, 2013 at 10:26 AM

    Sure do hope some mom rights group doesn’t latch onto this and start excusing moms for abusing their kids because of their genetic make up. The last thing this country needs is for more excuses to be given to people who do indeed know that what they are doing is wrong. We all have genetic demons to fight-it doesn’t give us carte blanche to behave impulsively, irresponsibly, and abusively to innocent people and animals.

  • H.D.P.


    May 10th, 2013 at 10:29 AM

    How can you say postpartum depression does not directly impact instrumental infant care

    Isn’t that a total misrepresentation

    If you are so depressed you can’t function, get out of bed, etc exactly how are you able to give your infant basic care

    Where is your common sense

    The very nature of postpartum depression is not being able to function and do what you need to do because of an altered depressed state

    That claim doesn’t make much sense to me

  • callum


    May 10th, 2013 at 6:18 PM

    I know that this kind of research is important but. . . is it really going to keep someone who doesn’t need to become a mom from having a child? Chances are, no.

  • neala


    May 10th, 2013 at 11:39 PM

    a mother would not not care for her child intentionally.maybe there would be such cases but what I mean by intentional is that there could be psychological or mental factors behind that.we all know what a mother’s love is like,its time to treat a victim as a victim rather than blaming them!

  • mell


    May 11th, 2013 at 7:39 AM

    Is this supposed to be the explanation for when women are raised in good homes but then they unexplainably turn on their own children?

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.