Postnatal depression and its multigenerational impact on relationships

New research led by Dr. Sarah Myers and supervised by Dr. Sarah Johns, at the School of Anthropology and Conservation has found that postnatal depression continues to impact mother-child relationships in later life and affects relationships as well.

What did the researchers do?

They interviewed 305 women mainly from the UK and the US with an average age of 60 and who had given birth to an average of 2.2 children. Their children ranged in age from 8 to 48, with an average age of 29, and many now had children of their own. This wide-ranging dataset allowed them to assess the impact of postnatal depression over a longer period of time than previously examined.

What did they find?

Their data showed that women who had postnatal depression reported lower relationship quality with their offspring, including those children who are now adults, and that the worse the postnatal depression was, the worse the subsequent relationship quality was.

While mothers who exhibited depressive symptoms at other times had worse relationships with all of their children, postnatal depression was found to be specifically detrimental to the relationship mothers had with their child whose birth triggered postnatal depression.

What does this suggest?

This suggests that factors influencing mother-infant relationships in early childhood may have lifelong consequences on the relationship that forms over time.

Other findings and suggestions

Another research finding was that women who experience postnatal depression with a child, and then in later life become grandmothers through that child, form a less emotionally close relationship with that grandchild. This continues the negative cycle associated with postnatal depression as the importance of grandmothers in helping with the rearing of grandchildren is well documented.

The researchers hope the findings will encourage the continued development and implementation of preventive measures to combat postnatal depression. Investing in prevention will not only improve mother-child relationships, but future grandmother-grandchild relationships as well.

The paper, titled “Postnatal depression is associated with detrimental lifelong and multigenerational impacts on relationship quality”, was published in the open access journal PeerJ .

Read the full article here.