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Effects of postnatal depression on infant development
  1. Department of Psychology
  2. The University of Reading
  3. Whiteknights, Reading RG6 6AL

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    There is good evidence that parental psychiatric disorder has a deleterious effect on child development. Rutter has outlined a number of possible reasons for this.1 First, there may be a direct pernicious impact on the child of exposure to the parental disorder. Second, there may be an indirect impact via the effect of the parental disorder on interpersonal behaviour in general and parenting in particular. Finally, the impact may be via third factor variables, such as the social adversity commonly associated with psychiatric disorder, or genetic or constitutional factors. Depression arising in the postnatal period could have an impact on infant development via each of these causal pathways. The infant’s extreme dependency on their caretaker, their sensitivity to interpersonal contacts,2 and the fact that, in the great majority of cases, the mother constitutes the infant’s primary environment in the first postnatal months, make the question of the impact of depression occurring at this time one of particular importance. An account is given below of the evidence implicating postnatal depression in adverse infant outcome. This evidence is then examined in the light of the possible causal frameworks outlined above.

    A number of studies have examined the 1 to 2 year old infants of mothers who have had a postnatal depression.3-8 These studies have generally found an association between early maternal depression and adverse cognitive and emotional infant development.

    Cognitive development

    Two studies have reported on the cognitive outcome of 12 to 18 month old infants of mothers who had had a postnatal depression. Lyons-Ruth et al, in a comparison of American mothers and infants who had been referred to an infant intervention service with matched community controls,3 found that increased levels of maternal depression were significantly related at 1 year to poorer infant mental and motor development as …

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