-Written by Katie Little ‘18
While there is a breadth of information about mother-infant attachment after a baby is born (For more information, please see any of the following: “What Creates Mother-Infant Bonds?”, “What Factors Affect the Attachment Security of Premature Babies?”, “Mary Ainsworth and the Strange Situation Procedure”, or “Does Attachment Classification Change from Infancy to Adulthood?”), mother-infant bonding actually begins before birth. Rather than being based on interactions between mother and baby, prenatal attachment is based on how the mother feels about and imagines her baby. The Prenatal Attachment Inventory is a questionnaire that can be used to measure prenatal attachment. But what factors influence the degree to which a mother feels connected to her unborn child?
Barone, Lionetti, and Dellagiulia published a paper in response to this question in 2014. They used the Prenatal Attachment Inventory and administered it to a group of 130 expecting mothers in Italy. All of the mothers were in a relationship for at least 2 years and were between the ages of 18 and 45. The mothers also answered questions on the Centre for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale to provide information about any depressive symptoms and completed questions on the Dyadic Adjustment Scale so the researchers could assess the quality of their relationships with their partners.
Based on the women’s responses, the psychologists found that the quality of a couple’s partnership had a relationship with how the mother felt about her unborn child. Specifically, women who felt like they had supportive partners were more likely to imagine and plan a future with their child than women who did not have the same kind of perceived support.
The psychologists also found that the further along a mother was with her pregnancy, the higher her scores on the Prenatal Attachment Inventory. These results suggest that as a pregnancy continues, the degree to which a mother thinks about and plans for her child increases.
Finally, the researchers did not find a strong relationship between depressive symptoms and the overall score on the Prenatal Attachment Inventory. However, when they looked at the breakdown of the Prenatal Attachment Inventory score, they found that women with more depressive symptoms had higher scores in the Fantasy and Sensitivity subscales of the measure. The Fantasy and Sensitivity subscales of the Prenatal Attachment Inventory scale are different than the other subscales of prenatal attachment because they measure the intensity of a mother’s preoccupation with her unborn child rather than the quality of the relationship. One proposed reason why this result might occur is women with more depressive symptoms might be more susceptible to using their emotional status to understand the baby and therefore make judgements about their fetus with more conviction. Another explanation stems from Seimyr and colleagues (2009), a study which found that mothers with greater depression were more sensitive to fetal movements.
This result is certainly unusual and provides an avenue for further research.
Barone, L., Lionetti, F., & Dellagiulia, A. (2014). Maternal-fetal attachment and its correlates in a sample of Italian women: a study using the prenatal attachment inventory. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 32(3), 230-239.
Seimyr, L., Sjogren, B., Welles-Nystrom, B., & Nissen, E. (2009). Antenatal maternal depressive mood and parental-fetal attachment at the end of pregnancy. Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 12, 269-279.
Image Found: https://openclipart.org/detail/243746/pregnancy-with-love