Background: Social support theory suggests that parental social support may influence the nature of early parenting behaviours and specifically the mother-infant relationship. This study examines whether support from a partner, friends or family is associated with differences in quality of mother-infant interactions in the context of maternal depression.

Methods: 210 women were followed from early pregnancy to six months postpartum within Australian pregnancy cohort, the Mercy Pregnancy and Emotional Wellbeing Study (MPEWS). Mother-infant interactions within a standardised observation at six months postpartum were measured by the Emotional Availability (EA) Scales using total scores of the parental scales. In early and late pregnancy and at six months postpartum, mothers rated perceived maternal social support from a partner, family and friends using subscales of the Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support. Depression was measured in early pregnancy and at six months postpartum using the Structured Clinical Interview for the DSM-IV-TR, with repeated measurement of depressive symptoms by the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). Data was analysed using structural equation models.

Results: There were significant interactions between depressive symptoms in early pregnancy and perceived maternal support from a partner (B = .18, 95% CI = 03, .31) and separately from family (B = .12, 95% CI = .03, .32) in predicting maternal emotional availability. No such interaction was found for support from friends. While partner and family support moderated the association between early depressive symptoms and emotional availability, there were no direct associations between maternal depressive disorder in early pregnancy and perceived support, and further, maternal depression was not a significant predictor of emotional availability.

Limitations: Future studies should consider extending measurement of the mother-infant relationship beyond the EA Scales, inclusion of a measure of maternal childhood trauma, and replicating our findings.

Conclusion: Maternal perception of partner and family support in the postpartum is a predictor of the association between early pregnancy depressive symptoms and maternal emotional availability.


social support, mother-infant, emotional availability, depression, perinatal

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