Positive Maternal Mental Health, Parenting, and Child Development

Biol Psychiatry. 2020 Feb 15;87(4):328-337. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2019.09.028. Epub 2019 Oct 16.


While maternal mental health is an important influence on child development, the existing literature focuses primarily on negative aspects of maternal mental health, particularly symptoms of depression, anxiety, or states of distress. We provide a review of the evidence on the potential importance of positive mental health for both mother and child. The evidence suggests that positive mental health is a distinct construct that is associated with improved birth outcomes and potentially with specific forms of parenting that promote both academic achievement and socioemotional function. We review studies that provide a plausible biological basis for the link between positive mental health and parenting, focusing on oxytocin-dopamine interactions. We caution that the evidence is largely preliminary and suggest directions for future research, noting the importance of identifying the operative dimensions of positive maternal mental health in relation to specific outcomes. We suggest that the inclusion of positive maternal mental health provides the potential for a more comprehensive understanding of parental influences on child development.

Keywords: Child development; Dopamine; Maternal well-being; Oxytocin; Parenting; Positive mental health.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety
  • Child
  • Child Development
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mental Health*
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Mothers
  • Parenting*