Pregnant women recognise baby expressions differently

Washington: As per a new study, pregnant women who have suffered from depression or bipolar disorder recognise baby faces and how babies laugh or cry differently.

This happens even if they are not currently experiencing depressive or manic symptoms, although the authors stresses that research would be needed to confirm any long-term effects.

Researchers compared 22 pregnant women, currently well but with a history of depression, and seven with bipolar disorder who were also currently well, against 28 healthy pregnant women. They also tested 18 non-pregnant women, as controls.

Between the 27th and 39th weeks of pregnancy, all the women were tested for how they responded to a series of happy or sad faces, and to laughter and crying, of both babies and adults.

Specifically, the women were asked to rate how happy or distressed the infants were based on infants’ facial and vocal displays of emotion. They were also asked to identify adult facial expressions of emotion across varying intensity levels.

Lead researcher, Dr. Anne Bjertrup said, “In this study, we found that pregnant women with depression or bipolar disorder process infants’ facial and vocal signals of emotion differently even when they are not currently experiencing a depressive or manic episode.”

It’s worth emphasizing that this work does not say that the affected women are “bad mothers”. It simply means that because of their health history, they may experience difficulties interpreting and responding appropriately to their infants’ emotional needs and that we as clinicians need to be more aware of these possible difficulties.

“But above all, we need evidence of any effect on children; our group have an ongoing study of mothers with affective disorders and their infants, to see if what we have found does indeed make a difference to the mother-infant interaction, which has an impact on the child’s psychological development – this is something the work presented here does not address,” added another researcher.

The findings were discussed in the 31st Congress of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology.