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Maternal mental health has enduring effects on children’s life chances and is a substantial cost driver for child health, education and social services. A key linking mechanism is the quality of mother-infant interaction. A body of work associates maternal depressive symptoms across the antenatal and postnatal (perinatal) period with less-than-optimal mother-infant interaction. Our study aims to build on previous research in the field through exploring the association of a maternal personality trait, interpersonal sensitivity, measured in early pregnancy, with subsequent mother-infant interaction quality. We analysed data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) to examine the association between antenatal interpersonal sensitivity and postnatal mother-infant interaction quality in the context of perinatal depressive symptoms. Interpersonal sensitivity was measured during early pregnancy and depressive symptoms in the antenatal year and across the first 21 months of the postnatal period. In a subsample of the ALSPAC, mother-infant interaction was measured at 12 months postnatal through a standard observation. For the subsample that had complete data at all time points (n = 706), hierarchical regression examined the contribution of interpersonal sensitivity to variance in mother-infant interaction quality. Perinatal depressive symptoms predicted little variance in mother-infant interaction. Antenatal interpersonal sensitivity explained a greater proportion of variance in mother-infant interaction quality. The personality trait, interpersonal sensitivity, measured in early pregnancy, is a more robust indicator of subsequent mother-infant-interaction quality than perinatal depressive symptoms, thus affording enhanced opportunity to identify vulnerable mother-infant relationships for targeted early intervention.


School of Psychology

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Journal Article

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