Impact of Postpartum Anxiety and Depression in Infant Development

Postpartum depression and anxiety can severely impact the relationship between a mother and her child. Long after the symptoms have waned, the child can still struggle with the psychological impact of the experience. Some studies have examined how specific postnatal maternal mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and eating issues, can affect a child’s psychological well-being. But very little research has examined how a mother’s thought patterns, specifically worry and rumination, two behaviors common in anxiety and depression, influence a child’s development. Alan Stein of the Department of Psychiatry at Warneford Hospital at the University of Oxford in the U.K. was curious to find out how these issues affected the type of parenting a mother provided. People with anxiety and depression are often stuck in a negative mood, which can limit the amount of attention they provide their children. During infancy, the bond between mother and child is critical and lays the foundation for many aspects of a child’s psychological development and well-being throughout their lifetime.

For his study, Stein enlisted 253 new mothers and evaluated them and their infants 3 months, 6 months, and 10 months after delivery. After priming them with conditions that would induce worry and rumination, Stein found that the mothers who had anxiety or depression exhibited significant impairments in the mother-infant relationship compared to healthy participants. However, all of the mothers reported similar negative affect after the priming experiment, although the mothers with depression and anxiety were the only ones to experience a decrease in positive affect. Another interesting finding was the mothers’ response to their infants’ cries. Both the mothers with depression and anxiety had decreased responses after the priming, whereas the healthy controls responded more attentively as a result of being exposed to a worrisome cue. Stein also discovered that the mothers with anxiety responded with stronger control than the other mothers in the study, while their children showed decreased positive emotional control. Stein believes this study could benefit mothers with depression and anxiety and, ultimately, their children. He added, “Clinically, these findings suggest that treatment efforts may be enhanced by focusing on worry and rumination in mothers with both current and remitted generalized anxiety disorder and major depression.”

Stein, A., Craske, M. G., Lehtonen, A., Harvey, A., Savage-McGlynn, E., Davies, B., Goodwin, J., Murray, L., Cortina-Borja, M., Counsell, N. (2012, January 30). Maternal Cognitions and Mother–Infant Interaction in Postnatal Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026847

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  • gwen g

    gwen g

    February 7th, 2012 at 5:24 AM

    You have to know that when the parent feels disengaged for the infant because of things that they can’t help, then there is definitely going to be this issues with the infant development. When you can’t see past the depression that you are feeling then how are you supposed to bond with that child? I know that this is something that many new moms feel but I do wish that there could be some predictors of who is going to face this so that there can be some early intervention and treatment. Why do we have to wait until it actually comes up? And are ob gyns talking to their patients about these possibilities?

  • R.Henry


    February 7th, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    well any change in the mother would reflect upon the child and vice versa if u ask me.there’s just such a strong bond that depression in the mother would definitely have effect on the infant.

    any depression in the mother would affect the care taking she does and it then propagates to the baby.

    ive heard even men experience a form of post partum this true?if so,then is there a way which benefits both the partners simultaneously?

  • Greta


    February 7th, 2012 at 4:38 PM

    How on earth do you expect me to believe that a child can remember the things that happened to the mom when they were young? Only if you tell them.

  • layla


    November 22nd, 2012 at 6:28 PM

    It is not about what the child can remember. It is about what the child was exposed to from birth which develops pathways in the brain. A human being needs nurture, love and social interaction in order to develop normally. We are affected whether or not we remember what we went through while we were babies.
    In severe cases of post partum depression when the mother feels absolutely no desire to interact in a loving, or happy manner, this would affect the babies development, and if there is a failure to bond which lasts for a long period of time I would think this would subconsciously affect a person throughout their entire lives.

    *I did suffer and have recovered from post partum depression and wish for any one who is suffering to seek help and stay strong <3

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