News: Depression affects how moms respond to crying babies

Crying is the primary way that infants communicate, so when I’m with a baby who starts crying, I often find


Crying is the primary way that infants communicate, so when I’m with a baby who starts crying, I often find myself playing a guessing game’what is the kid trying to tell me? But somehow a baby’s mother always seems to understand what the/she needs, and after just a few minutes of maternal love, the baby is all smiles again.

But a new research suggests that not all moms are in tune with their baby’s cries. The study, conducted by reasearchers from the University of Oregon, found that when a mother is suffering with depression, she responds differently to a crying baby when compared to a non-depressed mother.

For this study, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain activity of first-time mothers as they responded to recordings of crying infants. They found there to be a blunted response in the brains of depressed mothers.

"It looks as though depressed mothers are not responding in a more negative way than non-depressed mothers, which has been one hypothesis," says the study’s lead researcher Heidemarie K. Laurent in a press release. "What we saw was really more of a lack of responding in a positive way." She adds that in non-depressed mothers, the response was consistent with wanting to approach their infants. 

How a mother responds to her baby’s crying can affect the child’s development, psychology professor Jennifer C. Ablow, whose lab conducted the study, says in the press release.  ‘A mother who is able to process and act upon relevant information will have more sensitive interactions with her infant, which, in turn, will allow the infant to develop its own regulation capacities,” says Ablow.

The researchers say this study is significant as it shows how depression can exert long-lasting effects on mother-infant relationships.

Laurent says, in audio comments found on the University’s website, that understanding that a depressed mother has trouble being rewarded by interactions with her child will perhaps allow people to have more empathy when a depressed mother seems so unresponsive or insensitive.

The researchers say this study can help with effectively treating depression symptoms in mothers.  

There are plans for future study that will follow women from the prenatal period through the first year of motherhood to see how brain responses affect mother-infant relationships during a critical point in a baby’s development.

How does the sound of a crying baby make you feel?  For the first time mothers out there, what is your initial reaction on hearing your baby cry?

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