How does postpartum depression affect a mother’s ability to care for and parent her child?  Various studies have demonstrated that depressed mothers may be less attuned to their children’s needs, either being less responsive to the baby or, in some cases, too intrusive.  Researchers have speculated that this mismatch between mother and baby may contribute to problems with infant bonding, delays in development and emotional dysregulation.

A recent study highlights the fact that postpartum depression may also affect a mother’s ability to engage in appropriate parenting and infant safety practices.  In this study, depressed mothers were:

  • Less likely to have their infant use back sleep position (60 vs. 79 %, p < .001),
  • Less likely to consistently use a car seat (67 vs. 84 %, p < .001)
  • More likely to feed their infants water, juice, or cereal (36 vs. 25 %, p = .04)
  • More likely to bring their babies to the emergency room (26 vs. 16 %, p = .03) as compared with non-depressed mothers.

These findings highlight the need for early intervention in the care of women with postpartum depression.  Not only is it vital to treat and manage the mother’s depression, it is essential to provide resources which reinforce positive parenting practices.

There have also been some interesting studies which suggest that certain interventions which eductate women about parenting may reduce the risk of postpartum depression.  One recent study indicated that an intervention teaching new parents about normal infant sleeping and crying patterns and providing them with techniques for infant settling significantly reduced risk for postpartum depression.  Another study showed similar results using an educational program that focused on managing difficult aspects of the normal postpartum experience and on how to increase levels of social support.

Ruta Nonacs, MD PhD


Balbierz A, Bodnar-Deren S, Wang JJ, Howell EA.  Maternal Depressive Symptoms and Parenting Practices 3-Months Postpartum.  Matern Child Health J. 2014 Nov 6. [Epub ahead of print]

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