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

Abstract

Introduction

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.

Methods

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.

Results

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.

Discussion

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends pregnant women with high daily caffeine intake (more than 300 mg per day) to lower their caffeine intake during pregnancy (World Health Organization 2016). WHO also recommends that all pregnant women should be advised of the potential health risks to themselves and their babies posed by alcohol and drug use. Health-care providers are advised to routinely offer advice and psychosocial interventions for tobacco cessation for all pregnant women who are either current tobacco users or recent tobacco quitters (strong recommendation based on moderate quality evidence).

  2. 2.

    Average maternal age in this study was 32.5 years (the average in the population was 30 years), 40.3% of women in this study were nulliparous (42.4% in the population); the average gestational age in our study was 39.4 weeks (the population average was 38.8 weeks); and the average weight of babies in this study was 3.47 kgs (the population average was 3.37 kgs).

  3. 3.

    1% of women in this study were from an Indigenous background, while 4% of women are indigenous in the general population; 58.4% of women in this study were born in Australia, while 68.8% of women giving birth in the population are Australian-born; 6% of women smoked tobacco in this study, which was half the rate of women smoking during pregnancy in the population.

  4. 4.

    The ABS Socioeconomic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) provides a measure of relative advantage and disadvantage (Pink 2008). The present study used SEIFA deciles of relative advantage and disadvantage as an indicator of family SES (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2008). These deciles were collapsed into the following categories for the present analyses: low SES (deciles 1–3); medium SES (deciles 4–7); and high SES (deciles 8–10). Using the SEIFA Index of Relative Socioeconomic Advantage and Disadvantage (IRSAD) score, the mean IRSAD score in the present sample was 1052.4 (SD 56.6).

  5. 5.

    Caffeine use included: black tea; coffee (instant, brewed, espresso); energy drinks, and; soda drinks.

  6. 6.

    Please note that actual caffeine content of a cup of coffee or tea can vary due to factors such as origin, processing and preparation method, including brewing time.

  7. 7.

    Please note that these examples are a guide only.

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Acknowledgements

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).

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Rossen, L., Mattick, R.P., Wilson, J. et al. Mother–Infant Bonding and Emotional Availability at 12-Months of Age: The Role of Early Postnatal Bonding, Maternal Substance Use and Mental Health. Matern Child Health J 23, 1686–1698 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10995-019-02809-1

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Keywords

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