A longitudinal investigation of young mothers’ prenatal attachment, depressive symptoms, and early parenting behaviour

Nora Y. Medina*, Renee C. Edwards, Yudong Zhang, Sydney L. Hans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objectives: This study explores whether young, low-income mothers’ prenatal attachment to their infants is related to attachment and parenting behaviour postnatally. Background: A small literature has documented continuity in maternal attachment from pregnancy to postpartum and shown that early maternal attachment is associated with positive parenting behaviour. Less is known about whether prenatal attachment has a unique impact on parenting behaviour, or if it is primarily a step in the development of postnatal attachment, which in turn influences parenting. Additionally, it is unclear whether associations between attachment and early parenting might be attributable to other factors such as depressive symptoms. Method: This longitudinal study followed young primiparous mothers from pregnancy through 3-weeks postnatal. 240 ethnically/racially diverse low-income American women reported their attachment-related thoughts and feelings and their depressive symptoms during pregnancy and postnatally. At 3 weeks postpartum, mothers were observed interacting with their infant. Results: There was stability in attachment and depressive symptoms from pregnancy to postpartum. In multivariate path models, prenatal attachment was directly associated with two types of parenting behaviour: positive engagement and encouragement of learning, even when accounting for depressive symptoms and postnatal attachment. There was an indirect effect of prenatal attachment on sensitivity through postnatal attachment. Conclusion: The foundation of a mother’s emotional connection to her infant begins before birth. Parenting support programmes for young mothers should begin during pregnancy. Supporting the establishment of positive prenatal attachment may also have a positive influence on later parenting behaviour among mothers, including mothers experiencing depressive symptoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)196-211
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2022


  • Adolescent mothers
  • newborns
  • postnatal depression
  • prenatal depression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Psychology(all)
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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