Maternal and Child Health Journal

, Volume 23, Issue 12, pp 1686–1698 | Cite as

Mother–Infant Bonding and Emotional Availability at 12-Months of Age: The Role of Early Postnatal Bonding, Maternal Substance Use and Mental Health

  • Larissa RossenEmail author
  • Richard P. Mattick
  • Judy Wilson
  • Philip J. Clare
  • Lucinda Burns
  • Steve Allsop
  • Elizabeth J. Elliott
  • Sue Jacobs
  • Craig A. Olsson
  • Delyse Hutchinson



The quality of the mother–child relationship in the first year of life has far reaching implications across the life course (Bornstein in Annu Rev Psychol 65:121–158, 2014). Yet little is known about predictors of maternal bonding and emotional availability in early infancy. In this study we examined the extent to which postnatal bonding, maternal mental health, and substance use at 8-weeks postpartum predicted mother–infant bonding (self-report) and mother emotional availability (observational) at 12-months of age.


Data were obtained from an Australian longitudinal cohort study of pregnancy (n = 308). Data were collected during pregnancy, at birth, and postnatally at 8-weeks and 12-months.


The results show strong continuity between postnatal bonding at 8-weeks and 12-months. Early postpartum stress and depression were associated with bonding at 12-months; however, the effect did not persist after adjustment for bonding at 8-weeks. Tobacco use at 8-weeks, but no other indicators of mental health, predicted lower emotional availability scores at 12-months.


Results suggest that the mother’s felt bond to her child is stable across the first year of life and that early bonding is a more robust indicator of bonding at 12-months than a mother’s mental health or substance use. These findings point to the importance of clinical and public health investments in establishing a strong bond between mother and child in the early postpartum period.


Maternal bonding Emotional availability Postnatal period Mental health Substance use Mother–child relationship 



The authors wish to acknowledge the investigators not listed as authors, the Bumps, Babies and Beyond (Triple B) research staff who collected the data, the hospitals/antenatal clinics, and the participants. Funding was provided by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (Grant Number GNT630517), a NHMRC Principal Research Fellowship Award (Grant Number APP1045318), a UNSW Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellowship Award, an Australian Research Council Principal Fellowship (Grant Number DORA: LP130101459), and a NHMRC Practitioner Fellowship (Grant Number 1021480).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflicts of interest

We do not have any conflicts of interest affecting the conduct or reporting of this research.

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.

Informed Consent

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

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 3 (DOCX 27 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Drug and Alcohol Research CentreUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.National Drug Research InstituteCurtin University of TechnologyPerthAustralia
  3. 3.Paediatrics and Child Health, Sydney Medical SchoolUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  4. 4.Department of ObstetricsRoyal Prince Alfred HospitalSydneyAustralia
  5. 5.Centre for Social and Early Emotional Development, School of PsychologyDeakin UniversityGeelongAustralia
  6. 6.Centre for Adolescent HealthMurdoch Childrens Research InstituteParkvilleAustralia
  7. 7.Department of Paediatrics and Psychological Sciences, Royal Children’s HospitalUniversity of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

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