Maternal depression and controlling behavior associated with increased stress response in infants

Sep 18, 2007

Teenage pregnancy is widely recognized to be a major public health concern. These young mothers face many life challenges and they have an increased risk for becoming depressed. How might the behavior of these young mothers be related to later psychiatric or behavioral problems in some of their offspring?

A new study being published in Biological Psychiatry on September 15th suggests an association between a history of depression in the mothers, a particular style of mothering, “maternal overcontrol”, and increased stress reactivity of their infants.

Azar and colleagues measured the cortisol levels of infants both before and after a brief mild stressor. They found that a lifetime history of major depression in the mother and a maternal pattern of intrusive and overstimulating behavior toward their infant (“maternal overcontrol”) were associated with an increased release of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the infants following the mild stress exposure. The infants of mothers with a history of depression had also had lower pre-stress cortisol levels. Also, there was a correlation in the cortisol levels between mothers and their infants.

These findings add “to our small but growing body of knowledge on neurobiological differences in stress responses between infants of depressed and non-depressed mothers”, noted Dr. Azar. John H. Krystal, M.D., Editor of Biological Psychiatry and affiliated with both Yale University School of Medicine and the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, adds, “Teenage mothers and their offspring are both, in their own ways, vulnerable. As a result, teenage pregnancy is thought to be a setting for preventative educational programs that might help teenagers better cope with their upcoming challenges.” He also points out that, “We do not yet know the long-term consequences of maternal ‘overcontrol’, but should it prove to have negative long-term effects, it is conceivable that this type of behavior might be targeted in preventive educational programs.”

Dr. Azar concludes, “Practically, the open question is that of the long-term effects: are these infants at increased risk for psychological or physical stress-related illnesses later in life. If so, why" Given that the adrenocortical system is known to be plastic and hence easily influenced in both positive and negative ways, we believe that it is very important to eventually identify which of these babies are more vulnerable to stress.”

Source: Elsevier

Explore further: Majority of homeless adults with mental illness have high rates of cognitive deficits

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

All together now – three evolutionary perks of singing

Dec 24, 2014

We're enjoying the one time of year when protests of "I can't sing!" are laid aside and we sing carols with others. For some this is a once-a-year special event; the rest of the year is left to the professionals ...

Boy moms more social in chimpanzees

Nov 24, 2014

Nearly four decades of observations of Tanzanian chimpanzees has revealed that the mothers of sons are about 25 percent more social than the mothers of daughters. Boy moms were found to spend about two hours ...

Many parenting apps are reinforcing the gender divide

Nov 06, 2014

Almost every day, a smartphone app emerges offering some new and exciting functionality. But it's come to my attention that many of these apps are continuing an old trend: they are purveyors of gender-based ...

Recommended for you

Would you tell your manager you had a mental health problem?

14 hours ago

Although nearly four in 10 workers wouldn't tell their manager if they had a mental health problem, half said that if they knew about a coworker's illness, they would desire to help, a new survey by the Centre for Addiction ...

Stress during pregnancy related to infant gut microbiota

15 hours ago

Women who experience stress during pregnancy are likely to have babies with a poor mix of intestinal microbiota and with a higher incidence of intestinal problems and allergic reactions. This could be related to psychological ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.