Depression in Early Pregnancy Has Minor Effect on Postpartum Emotional Availability

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Maternal symptoms of depression in early pregnancy are slightly associated with lower levels of emotional availability.

Maternal symptoms of depression in early pregnancy are slightly associated with lower levels of emotional availability, yet women with depression are generally emotionally available for their infant at 6 months postpartum, according to a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

The Mercy Pregnancy and Emotional Wellbeing Study, an Australian pregnancy cohort, was used to examine the association between symptoms of depression and emotional availability in 210 women (mean age, 31.50±4.67 years) who were recruited in early pregnancy. At 6 months postpartum, women were video recorded while they interacted with their infant for ≥40 minutes. The Emotional Availability Scales coding system was used to assess the quality of the interactions. In addition, the investigators used a structured clinical interview and the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale to measure depression.

A total of 59 women met criteria for major depression disorder, whereas 152 women did not meet criteria for depression (control group). In 62 mothers with a depression diagnosis either during pregnancy or postnatally, approximately 71% were considered not emotionally available during their interaction with their infant at 6 months postpartum. A small correlation was found between maternal emotional availability and women who received a diagnosis of depression at 6 months postpartum (r [207], −0.15; P =.03).

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There was a small negative effect correlation between antenatal symptoms of depression and latent factor maternal emotional availability. The single significant predictor of 6-month maternal emotional availability postpartum was early pregnancy depressive symptoms (β, −0.19; P =.048).

A limitation of the study was the inclusion of only mothers and the lack of assessment of the relationship between a partner’s depression and emotional availability. The findings from the study indicate “that mothers are still able to engage in quality interactions despite experiencing depression.”


MacMillan KK, Lewis AJ, Watson SJ, Galbally M. Maternal depression and the emotional availability of mothers at six months postpartum: findings from the Mercy Pregnancy and Emotional Wellbeing Study (MPEWS) pregnancy cohort [published online January 21, 2020]. J Affect Disord. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2020.01.109