Prenatal maternal personality and postpartum motherinfant relationship quality: Does interpersonal sensitivity measured in the antenatal period predict the quality of the subsequent mother-infant relationship?
Maternal mental health problems significantly impact on children incurring substantial ongoing cost burdens for child health, education and social services. One mediating mechanism is mother-infant relationship quality, which predicts child outcomes. Maternal depression across the antenatal and postnatal (perinatal) period predicts poor mother-infant relationship quality, but not consistently. Perinatal depressive symptoms do not specifically identify vulnerable mother-infant relationships. Interpersonal relating style is associated with attachment, personality and parenting characteristics. The personality trait, interpersonal sensitivity, has been associated with proneness to depression. The thesis proposes that prenatal maternal interpersonal sensitivity might be a better indicator of subsequent mother-infant relationship quality than depressive symptoms. It reasons that aspects of personality associated with interpersonal relating style are more stable than depressive symptoms throughout the perinatal period. The hypothesis is that a measure of antenatal interpersonal sensitivity will explain more of the variance in subsequent mother-infant relationship quality than perinatal depressive symptoms. The research hypothesis is tested through two studies. Study One applies data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) to examine the association between antenatal interpersonal sensitivity and postpartum mother-infant relationship quality in the context of perinatal depressive symptoms. More than 14,000 women (and their partners) were enrolled in the ALSPAC during pregnancy in 1991–92. The Interpersonal Sensitivity Measure (IPSM) and Edinburgh Perinatal Depression Scale (EPDS) were completed in early pregnancy, and the EPDS was repeated in late pregnancy and the postpartum period. At 12 months postpartum mother-infant relationship quality was assessed on a 10% sample of the ALSPAC cohort using standardised coding with the Thorpe Interaction Measure (TIM). Study Two assesses a current, culturally diverse population in Western Sydney to examine the predictive capacity of antenatal EPDS and IPSM using a finer scaled, attachment-related measure of mother-infant relationship quality, the Child Adult Relations Experimental (CARE) Index at 12 months postpartum. The integration of results from both studies will examine the accuracy of an antenatal measure of a maternal personality trait, interpersonal sensitivity, as a predictor of subsequent mother-infant relationship quality.