The impact of maternal anxiety disorder on mother-infant interaction in the postpartum period

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Background This study investigated whether postpartum anxiety disorder is associated to altered patterns of infant as well as maternal engagement in a Face-to-Face-Still-Face interaction (FFSF). Sampling and methods n = 39 women with postpartum DSM-IV anxiety disorder and n = 48 healthy mothers were videotaped during a FFSF with their infant (M = 4.1 months). Results Infants of the clinical group showed significantly less positive engagement during the play episode than infants of controls. This result depended on infant sex: male controls demonstrated more positive interaction than males of anxious mothers. There was no such effect for female infants who engaged significantly less positively during the play episode than males and did not change their positive engagement during the FFSF. These findings imply pronounced interactive positivity and early vulnerability to maternal anxiety symptoms in male infants. Only the infants of the controls showed the still-face effect. They also protested significantly more during the still-face, while the clinical infants’ protest increased significantly during the reunion. Women of both groups did not differ in their interaction. Maternal intrusiveness was associated to infant protest in the course of the FFSF. Conclusions Results suggest that mother-infant intervention should consider affect regulation and infant sex-specific characteristics in anxious mother-infant dyads.




Reck, C., Tietz, A., Müller, M., Seibold, K., & Tronick, E. (2018). The impact of maternal anxiety disorder on mother-infant interaction in the postpartum period. PLoS ONE, 13(5).

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