Maternal Depressive Symptoms and Warm Responsiveness Across the Transition to Parenthood

  • Erica A. MitchellEmail author
  • Amy K. Nuttall
  • Andrea Wittenborn
Original Paper



Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Postpartum depression effects up to 12.4% of women and negatively impacts parenting behaviors as early as infancy.


This study examined the associations between maternal depressive symptoms and warm responsiveness from the third trimester of pregnancy through 18 months postpartum. This study assessed a high risk community sample (N = 682) of first-time mothers, ranging in age from 14–36 years old, with a majority identifying as African American and low income. Maternal depressive symptoms were assessed with a self-report measure, the Beck Depression Inventory II, prenatally and at six and 12 months postpartum, while maternal warm responsiveness data were coded via in-home observations with the Landry Observational measure at four, eight, and 18 months postpartum. Latent growth curve modeling was used to assess the associations between depressive symptoms and warm responsiveness over time.


The change in depressive symptoms was −4.92 (SE = 0.39, p < 0.0001) demonstrating that depressive symptoms decreased over time. The change in warm responsiveness was −0.55 (SE = 0.06, p < 0.0001) demonstrating that warm responsiveness also decreased over time. Greater depressive symptoms prenatally were significantly associated with less warm responsiveness at 4 months postpartum (B = −0.03, SE = 0.01, p < 0.01). However, changes in depressive symptoms were not significantly associated with changes in warm responsiveness over time.


It is important to assess for symptoms of depression during pregnancy in order to provide women the opportunity to have access to more resources and support.


Depression Parenting Transition to parenthood Warm responsiveness Latent growth curves 


Author Contributions

E.A.M.: developed the hypotheses, assisted with the data analyses, and prepared the manuscript. A.K.N.: assisted with the development of the hypotheses, oversaw and assisted with the data analyses, and collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript. A.W.: collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript.


This study was funded in part by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (grant R01 HD039456).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This secondary data analysis of de-identified data was determined to be exempt from human subjects review by the IRB at Michigan State University.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erica A. Mitchell
    • 1
    Email author
  • Amy K. Nuttall
    • 2
  • Andrea Wittenborn
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Human Development and Family StudiesMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Department of Human Development and Family StudiesMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  3. 3.Division of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesMichigan State UniversityGrand RapidsUSA

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