The demands of parenting put mothers of infants and young children at a particularly high risk of depression, according to background information in the article. As many as 24 percent of mothers with children younger than age 3 have depressive symptoms, which may in turn affect their babies. "The science of early development is clear about the importance of parenting and early caregiving relationships, especially during infancy, when there is total dependency for safety, health, protection, nurturing and stability," the authors write. "When a mother is coping with postpartum depressive symptoms, it places a burden on the caregiving relationship at a time when early patterns of parenting are established."
Kathryn Taaffe McLearn, Ph.D., of Columbia University, New York, and colleagues studied 4,874 mothers who visited one of 15 pediatric care sites around the country. The women were given a short questionnaire when they entered the study, between 1996 and 1998. Researchers then interviewed the participants by telephone when their infants were two to four months old, asking questions about child care practices and depressive symptoms.
During these interviews, 17.8 percent of mothers reported symptoms of depression. Among women who had breastfed, mothers with depressive symptoms were less likely to still be breastfeeding at the two- to four-month mark than women without symptoms of depression (43.8 vs. 56.9 percent). Mothers with symptoms of depression were also less likely to play with their infants at least once a day (87.4 vs. 91.9 percent), show a book to the infants at least
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