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Attempting to prevent postnatal depression by targeting the mother–infant relationship: a randomised controlled trial

  • Peter J. Cooper (a1), Leonardo De Pascalis (a2), Matthew Woolgar (a2), Helena Romaniuk (a2) and Lynne Murray (a1)...

Abstract

Aim

The purpose of the study was to investigate whether an intervention which focused on enhancing the quality of the mother-infant relationship would prevent the development of postnatal depression (PND) and the associated impairments in parenting and adverse effects on child development.

Background

Recent meta-analyses indicate modest preventive effects of psychological treatments for women vulnerable to the development of PND. However, given the strong evidence for an impact of PND on the quality of the mother–infant relationship and child development, it is notable that there are limited data on the impact of preventive interventions on these outcomes. This is clearly a question that requires research attention. Accordingly, a randomised controlled trial (RCT) was conducted of such a preventive intervention.

Methods

A large sample of pregnant women was screened to identify those at risk of PND. In an RCT 91 were randomly assigned to receive the index intervention from research health visitors, and 99 were assigned to a control group who received normal care. In an adjacent area 76 women at risk of PND received the index intervention from trained National Health Service (NHS) health visitors. The index intervention involved 11 home visits, two antenatally and nine postnatally. They were supportive in nature, with specific measures to enhance maternal sensitivity to infant communicative signals, including items from the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale. Independent assessments were made at 8 weeks, 18 weeks, and 12 and 18 months postpartum. Assessments were made of maternal mood, maternal sensitivity in mother–infant engagement, and infant behaviour problems, attachment and cognition.

Findings

The RCT revealed that the index intervention had no impact on maternal mood, the quality of the maternal parenting behaviours, or infant outcome, although there were suggestions, on some self-report measures, that those with a lower level of antenatal risk experienced benefit. This was also the case for the intervention delivered by trained NHS health visitors. The findings indicate that the approach investigated to preventing PND and its associated problems cannot be recommended.

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Copyright

Corresponding author

Correspondence to: Peter J. Cooper or Lynne Murray, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, UK, RG6 6AL. Email: p.j.cooper@rdg.ac.uk; lynne.murray@rdg.ac.uk.

Footnotes

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a

Also: Department of Psychology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

b

Clinical Psychologist, King’s College London, National Academy of Parenting Research, London SE5 8AF, UK.

c

Biostatistician/Senior Research Officer, Clinical Epidemiology & Biostatistics Unit and Centre for Adolescent Health, Royal Children’s Hospital, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3052, Australia

Footnotes

References

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Keywords

Attempting to prevent postnatal depression by targeting the mother–infant relationship: a randomised controlled trial

  • Peter J. Cooper (a1), Leonardo De Pascalis (a2), Matthew Woolgar (a2), Helena Romaniuk (a2) and Lynne Murray (a1)...

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