Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Affectionate mothering can combat the effects of maternal depression


Public Release: 11-Feb-2016
Mommy and me
New U study shows how affectionate mothering can combat the effects of maternal depression
University of Utah

Poverty, lack of education and exposure to violence can undeniably impact a child's life trajectory significantly. But how can a mother's exposure and potentially depressive reactions to these stressors impact a child before his/her life even begins? A depressed mother's response to stress can pass through the placenta to negatively impact the fetus in ways that manifest after birth such as birth weight, brain development and increased susceptibility to various ailments.

The first study of its kind, "The contributions of maternal sensitivity and maternal depressive symptoms to epigenetic processes and neuroendocrine functioning," led by University of Utah assistant professor Elisabeth Conradt in the Department of Psychology, found that certain parenting strategies can combat the negative impacts of maternal depression on an infant. The findings were published in Child Development.


Prior research indicates that being depressed while pregnant and exposure to childhood abuse is related to increased DNA methylation, and subsequently reduced gene activity, of key stress-related genes including the glucoroticoid receptor gene (NR3C1) and 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 (11β-HSD2).


The infants each participated in three two-minute face-to-face play episodes with their mothers. The first play episode required normal play between mother and infant, the second episode required that the mothers be unresponsive to their infants and the third episode was a reunion episode where mothers were allowed to interact again.

Maternal sensitivity, recorded every 30 seconds, was assessed using four scales. First, maternal acceptance: Willingness and ability of the mother to follow her infant's lead. Second, demandingness: the degree to which the mother required her infant to behave a certain way. Third, responsiveness: Both the mother's awareness of her infant's signals and her response to them, regardless of the appropriateness of response. Fourth, appropriate touch: The mother's ability to touch her infant in a gentle and affectionate manner as opposed to a more intrusive manner.

The researchers took a pre-stress cortisol sample from each infant prior to entering the lab and two post-stress samples after the unresponsive play episode and after the reunion play episode. A cheek swab for DNA was taken after the second play episode.


The research team found that greater levels of maternal sensitivity were related to lower levels of cortisol. While there were no differences in DNA methylation among infants whose mothers scored high on sensitivity, infants whose mothers were both less sensitive and had high depressive symptoms had higher levels of methylation and more cortisol.

Furthermore, mothers with depressive symptoms who were more responsive and engaged in more appropriate touch during face-to-face play had infants with less DNA methylation compared to mothers with depressive symptoms who were also insensitive.

Having a sensitive caregiver, therefore, appears to buffer infants from the exposure of the mother's depressive symptoms. Infants aren't aware of whether their caregivers are depressed or not; they are only aware of how they're treated. This study is the first to demonstrate that certain forms of maternal caregiving can have such an effect.

"Many mothers struggle with depression but interact quite sensitively with their infants. In these instances, the mother may be "turning on" certain genes that we think allow infants to manage stress in adaptive ways," Conradt summarized.


No comments:

Post a Comment