Does Maternal Depression Have a Negative Effect on Parent-Child Attachment

Research has repeatedly shown that the parent-child attachment relationship has a significantly profound effect on the development of a child. Some believe that attachment is the single most important relationship that a young infant/toddler will engage in so early in their life. This relationship sets the framework for almost all degrees of development that a child goes through. The quality of attachment will determine one’s long term outcomes in so many areas. A major component in determining the quality and degree of attachment is the pathology of the mother.

In 1990, Gelfand & Teti described a mother’s depressed mood as being “less responsive, more helpless, hostile, critical, alternatively disregarded or intrusive, disorganized and less active, avoidant of confrontation, and generally less competent with their children. ” Having a child has its fair share of complications and hardships. So many parents, especially mothers, find it extremely difficult to keep up with their parenting duties and too many times the importance of the child-parent relationship is overlooked.

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This paper looks at three articles that discuss the impact that maternal depression has on children, and how the attachment relationship is affected. Each study will be summarized. The paper will conclude with a discussion about parent-child attachment and how each article has answered the title question. Stien 2 The first article was written Teti et. al in 1995. Their focus was on attachment relationships between infant and preschool aged children and their depressed mothers. The authors looked at the attachment relationship in regards to the severity of the depression. There were two groups that were observed in this study.

The first were depressed mothers in therapy at time of recruitment and the second were community matched non-depressed mothers, which was the control group. The authors were determined to answer three hypotheses. They predicted that maternal depression would relate with the child’s sense of security, with a significantly higher percentage of insecure children having depressed mothers. Secondly, chronic and severe maternal impairment would be associated with disorganized attachment in infancy. Finally, more chronic and severe maternal depression would be linked to anxious depressed and insecure preschoolers.

One hundred and four families (61 depressed mothers, 43 nondepressed) were evaluated for this study. 95% of the participants were white, 44% Hispanic, and 1% African American. The mother’s age ranged from 18. 5-45. 4 years of age and the children ranged in age from 3-13 months. In this sample, the depressed mothers were seen to have lower educational levels, lower yearly income, and more likely to be a single parent. In their discussion, Teti et al explained the following findings. Maternal depression is significantly associated with attachment security in both infant and preschool age groups.

The severity and chronicity of the maternal depression must be looked at when analyzing maternal depression and attachment security in young children. Depression present in mothers leads to incoherent attachment relationships between that Stien 3 mother and her child. This also may lead to a high risk for psychopathology later on in life for the child. There were some limitations that were found in this research. The sample was predominantly white. A large number of the sample was Mormons. These findings are not supportive of the various ethnic, cultural, religious backgrounds that are incorporated in our society today.

The diagnoses of depression among the mothers were obtained from the therapists and were not independently checked. Finally, the results were exclusively correlational. In 2006, McMahon et al devised a study that was aimed to explore whether a mother’s own state of mind regarding attachment influenced the relationship between postnatal depression and insecure mother-child attachment. They were interested in seeing if there is an association between postnatal depression and mother-child attachment relationships. The authors planned on exploring this association and also looked at the mother’s state of mind regarding child attachment.

Two main predictions were devised by the authors. A chronic postnatal depression would be associated with an insecure state of mind regarding attachment and also an insecure mother-child attachment relationship. However, it was thought that even if the mother was depressed, as long as they had a secure state of mind regarding attachment, the mother-child relationship would not be hindered. One hundred and twenty seven mothers, ages 22-44 years old were studied. There were sixty seven male children and sixty female children, ranging in age from 11-25 weeks old. Data was collected at 4, 12, and 15 months.

The mothers were interviewed at Stien 4 4 months and again at 12 months. At the 12 month mark, the Adult Attachment Interview was administered. There was a follow-up done at the 15 month mark, which was done in a laboratory setting. At this time, the Strange Situation was used with the child. Questionnaires about one’s psychological well being were completed by the mothers at all three intervals of the study. At the time of publication, this was the first study to show a relationship between clinically depressed mothers in the postnatal period and an insecure state of mind regarding attachment.

There were several other findings with this research. Chronically depressed mothers are more likely than never depressed mothers to have an insecure state of mind about attachment. Briefly depressed mothers were no more likely than never depressed mothers to have insecure attachments with their children. Mothers with a secure state of mind, even if they showed signs of chronic depression, were more likely to have a secure attachment relationship with their child. Inversely, those with an insecure state of mind showed a greater increase of insecure attachment, even if they only showed brief signs of depression.

Finally, of all the non-depressed mothers, those with a secure state of mind were no more likely than those with an insecure state of mind to have a securely attached child. This study went above other studies and looked at the actual attachment relationship along with the mother’s feelings towards their child and attachment. Despite depressive symptoms, these results show that the mother’s state of mind lays a firm foundation for quality of attachment shared between the mother and child. As with all research, this article concludes with a discussion of limitations.

The sample size that was Stien 5 studied is considered to be small and there may be variables (marital status, co-morbid diagnoses, etc) that were not considered in these findings. These authors stress that a brief, behaviorally focused intervention is the most effective when trying to enhance a mother’s sensitivity to her offspring and the attachment relationship. The third article that was reviewed was published in 1997. Rosenblum et al divided depression into two groups: dull/slow and stressed/irritable.

The authors describe dull and slow depression as a “loss in interest, psychomotor abatement, excess of sleep, and an affective dulling. ” Stressed and irritable depression is seen as “irritable, feelings of guilt, stressed insomniac, may suffer from anorexia. ” The relationship between the mother and the child were evaluated when the child was one year of age. The type of maternal depression and the quality of attachment were looked at. The hypothesis was that infants of depressed mothers would show poor emotional expressions.

The infant’s affective responses and emotions would be determined by the type of depression the mother was incapacitated with. Finally, infants with depressed mothers were expected to have an insecure attachment relationship with their mother and those infants with non-depressed mothers would show more secure attachment relationships. Fifty four mothers (29 depressed, 25 non-depressed) with thirteen showing signs of dull/slow depression and 16 in the stressed/irritable group. The mothers were evaluated at three six months after the birth of their child. The children were seen at 12, 18, 24, and 36 months old.

Interactions between the mother and child were also Stien 6 videotaped at each interval. Ainsworth’s Strange Situation was used to assess the level of attachment. In the group of infants of depressed mothers, there were a significantly higher number of insecure attachment relationships, whereas the group of infants with non-depressed mothers showed a higher incidence of secure attachment relationships. Of the depressed mothers, 56% of dull/slow depression had an insecure-avoidant relationship and 62% of stressed/irritable depression had insecure-ambivalent relationships.

This study found that the type of maternal depression would have a profound impact on the attachment relationship with the child. As with the other articles, secure attachments were seen more with non-depressed mothers and insecure attachments were seen with depressed mothers. The findings among the three articles are somewhat contradicting. The articles by Teti et al and Rosenblum et al clearly stated that a more depressed mother led to a significantly more insecure attachment relationship between the mother and her child.

The article by McMahon et al found that despite the chronicity and severity of maternal depression, it was the mother’s state of mind regarding attachment that determined the quality of the parent-child relationship. “In some studies, however, maternal depression has not been associated with insecure attachment, and in all studies it is clear that a substantial number of mothers with depression are able to provide a sensitive caretaking environment for their children. ” (McMahon, p. 660).

It was in the study by McMahon where they found this statement to be true. They concluded that the mother’s state of mind was a higher predictor of insecure Stien 7 attachment relationships. A depressed mother, who has a positive idea of their child and attachment, will produce a secure attachment relationship with their child. Conversely, even in the control group of mothers who were not depressed, if they had a negative state of mind regarding their relationship with their child, it would lead to an insecure quality of attachment.

The two studies whose results showed that maternal depression leads to a negative, insecure attachment relationship described what most people would hypothesize in this area. Most people would think that a mother with a significant degree of depression would lead to a negative relationship between the mother and her child. “Parental behavior, cognitions and emotions are affected by the depression, which in turn leads to affective unavailability and ways of thinking that negatively impact parent-child interactions. ” (Rosenblum, p. 352).

Regardless of the studies and results that have been found, it is clear to some degree, that maternal depression and the mother’s state of mind definitely has an impact on the parent-child relationship. Children, specifically infants, rely heavily on their caregivers for many things; comfort, security, safety, and compassion. Therefore, the stability of mothers’ personality and skills is crucial in determining the child’s long term outcomes. Attachment relationships early in life set the stage for many aspects of a child’s demeanor throughout their entire lifetime.

Just about every aspect of a child’s development is affected by the early attachment that they share with their parents, and especially their mothers. Crucial life skills are reinforced with a positive attachment Stien 8 relationship. Children learn the likes of coping, self soothing, control of their arousals, etc. The quality of the attachment relationship lays the groundwork for the child. Therefore, whether the mother is depressed or not, it is necessary for the mother to try to make the most optimal relationship for the child that they can.

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