Maternal sensitivity and mental health: does an early childhood intervention programme have an impact?

Fam Pract. 2016 Jun;33(3):226-32. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmv071. Epub 2015 Sep 13.


Background: Maternal sensitivity (MS) and mental health influence mother-child attachment and the child's mental health. Early interventions may promote resilience and facilitate healthy development of the children through an impact on mothers' outcomes such as their sensitivity and mental health. Play with Our Children (POC) is an early intervention programme aiming to promote a positive mother-child interaction for children who attend three family health centres of deprived areas of Santiago de Chile.

Objective: To estimate the effect of the programme POC on MS and mental health.

Methods: A quasi-experimental design with propensity score matching estimations was employed. MS was measured with the Q-Sort of Maternal Sensitivity, and maternal mental health was assessed with the Patient Health Questionnaire and the Parenting Stress Index. Mean-difference comparison and difference-in-difference method were used as statistical strategies. The sample included 102 children from 2 to 23 months of age, 54 of them participated in the intervention and 48 children were the comparison group.

Results: Estimates showed that participation in POC was positively associated with less stress in mothers of children younger than 12 months (P < 0.05) and positively associated with MS for mothers of children from 12 to 23 months (P < 0.05). There were no significant differences in maternal depression scores.

Conclusion: The dyadic early intervention POC may influence mother's mental health and indirectly impact children's well-being during critical stages of their development by strengthening their mother's sensitivity towards them.

Keywords: Caregivers; child and adolescent development; health promotion; mental health methods: quantitative research/study; primary care; stress..

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child Development*
  • Chile
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy*