Background. Poor clinician-rated parenting outcome and observed interactive deficits in mothers with schizophrenia admitted to a psychiatric mother and baby unit (MBU) reflect continuing concerns over the parenting capacity of this group. However, little is known about whether interaction deficits are accounted for by severity of illness or adverse social circumstances typically experienced by these mothers.
Method. Thirty-eight women with severe perinatal illness (schizophrenia n=13; affective disorders n=25) and their infants were observed in play interaction a week prior to MBU discharge. Clinical and sociodemographic data were also obtained.
Results. Mothers with schizophrenia and their infants were rated to have poorer interactive behaviour than the affective disorders group. Infant avoidance of the mother was associated with a lack of maternal sensitivity and responsiveness. The deficits in mother–infant interaction found in the schizophrenia group could not be accounted for by our measures of illness severity or factors relating to adverse social circumstances.
Conclusions. The results replicate and extend previous findings showing poor interactive behaviours in mothers with schizophrenia, their infants, and in the dyad, in a range of areas following clinical recovery. The findings suggest that factors other than illness duration, dose of medication, marital status and occupational status are explanatory for the interactive deficits associated with maternal schizophrenia. Parenting interventions that aim to improve maternal sensitivity need to be developed specifically for this group.