New mothers who repeatedly have negative thoughts about their problems may find it difficult to interact with their babies, finds a new study.
The study suggested that rumination - broadly defined as having repetitive, prolonged, recurrent thoughts about one's self-concerns and one's experiences - affects the interactions between a mother and baby, regardless of how low the mother might be feeling.
‘Mothers who ruminate had reduced maternal sensitivity following a stressful task with their infant.’
Researchers from the University of Exeter observed separately 79 mothers in which 39 with low mood and 40 in a control group and babies aged three months to one year old.
In the study, half the mothers were encouraged to think in a repetitive and negative way about a problem that was important to them. The other mothers were encouraged to think in a focused fashion about a problem that was important to them but that they had resolved.
They assessed the mothers' interactions with their infants before and after the rumination task. The mother-baby interactions were filmed to assess facial expressions, speech and mother's body language to see, if the behavior was sensitive, controlling and unresponsive towards the baby.
The study found that rumination causally impairs maternal sensitivity and all mothers, regardless of the level of depressive symptoms, who were induced to ruminate demonstrated reduced maternal sensitivity to their infant.
Mothers induced to ruminate had further reductions in sensitivity following a stressful task with their infant.
"We hope these findings will be useful for health visitors and midwives when working with new moms, to help understand why mothers might be finding interactions with their baby more difficult and support them in building a close and responsive relationship with their baby," said lead researcher Dr Michelle Tester-Jones.
"The purpose of our study was to help identify thinking styles that might contribute to more or less sensitive parenting. The good news is that there are strategies to help manage rumination, and our research suggests that changing rumination can reduce potentially negative interactions with the baby," he added.
The findings were published in the journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.