Severe maternal psychopathology and infant-mother attachment

Dev Psychopathol. 2000 Spring;12(2):157-75. doi: 10.1017/s0954579400002030.


Eighty-two mother-infant dyads, comprising women with psychiatric disorder and individually matched controls, were followed up over the children's 1st year of life. The mothers with mental illness consisted of two subgroups: first, 25 severely mentally ill mothers who had been admitted to a psychiatric unit with their infants; and second, 16 mothers from a community sample meeting research diagnostic criteria for unipolar, nonpsychotic depression. With the exception of six dyads in the in-patient group, observations were made of the mother-infant interaction and the quality of the infant-mother attachment relationship at 12 months. The nature and course of the mothers' illness was also documented. Although few residual symptoms of maternal mental illness were detected at 1 year postpartum, interactional disturbances were evident among the case group dyads. A strong association was revealed between infant-mother attachment quality and maternal diagnosis; a manic episode of illness in the postpartum period was related to security in the attachment relationship, and psychotic or nonpsychotic depression was related to insecurity. Concurrent patterns of mother-infant interaction provided support for this finding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bipolar Disorder / diagnosis
  • Bipolar Disorder / psychology
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Object Attachment*
  • Patient Admission
  • Personality Assessment
  • Personality Development*
  • Psychotic Disorders / diagnosis
  • Psychotic Disorders / psychology