Maternal postpartum depression is a risk factor for infant emotional variability at 4 months

Mette Skovgaard Væver*, Ida Egmose Pedersen, Johanne Smith-Nielsen, Anne Tharner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Maternal postpartum depression (PPD) is a risk for disruption of mother–infant interaction. Infants of depressed mothers have been found to display less positive, more negative, and neutral affect. Other studies have found that infants of mothers with PPD inhibit both positive and negative affect. In a sample of 28 infants of mothers with PPD and 52 infants of nonclinical mothers, we examined the role of PPD diagnosis and symptoms for infants’ emotional variability, measured as facial expressions, vocal protest, and gaze using microanalysis, during a mother–infant face-to-face interaction. PPD symptoms and diagnosis were associated with (a) infants displaying fewer high negative, but more neutral/interest facial affect events, and (b) fewer gaze off events. PPD diagnosis, but not symptoms, was associated with less infant vocal protest. Total duration of seconds of infant facial affective displays and gaze off was not related to PPD diagnosis or symptoms, suggesting that when infants of depressed mothers display high negative facial affect or gaze off, these expressions are more sustained, indicating lower infant ability to calm down and re-engage, interpreted as a disturbance in self-regulation. The findings highlight the importance of not only examining durations, but also frequencies, as the latter may inform infant emotional variability.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)477-494
Number of pages18
JournalInfant Mental Health Journal
Issue number4
Early online date14 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • infant emotional display
  • maternal postpartum depression
  • microanalysis
  • mother–infant interaction
  • self-regulation


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