The effect of maternal postnatal depression on infants' verbal and nonverbal communication skills: A video-based analysis



Vasiliki Eirinaki

University of Roehampton

Postnatal depression (PND) affects approximately 20% of women following childbirth (Gillham & Wittkowski, 2015) and is associated with reduced synchrony and reciprocity during mother-infant interaction (Kaplan et al., 2009). Research shows that mothers with PND are less involved in enriching interactions with their babies, such as play, singing songs, face-to-face contacts and smiling (Deave et al, 2008; Music, 2011). These deficits in mother-child interactions have been found to negatively affect the child’s socio-emotional, cognitive and language development (Sohr-Preston & Scaramella, 2006; Kaplan et al., 2009). However, there is limited literature on how severe PND affects the quality of infant-mother interaction and further research is needed (Pawlby et al, 2010).


The main aim of this PhD is to examine, within the Froebelian framework, the effect of maternal postnatal depression on the infants’ verbal and non-verbal communication skills during three common yet crucial activities in child development; play, mother singing and face-to-face interaction. This will be the first study to provide a detailed examination of the emergent use of verbal and non-verbal communication skills in infants during these multiple activities with their mothers (with and without PND). In particular, this study aims to address the following research questions: 1) Do babies with PND mothers differ in their verbal and non-verbal communication skills compared to babies of mothers without PND? , 2) in which interaction activities (i.e. play, song and face-to-face interaction) do the infants display better outcomes in terms of verbal and non-verbal communication skills? and  3) what are the differences between the two groups (mothers with and without PND and their babies) in the quality of mother-infant interaction during these activities?


In the scope of this research, videotapes that contain mothers with and without PND and their infants interacting during these three activities will be analysed and compared. Froebel’s theory will provide the framework for the analysis of the variable effect that the mother-infant interaction may have on babies’ verbal and non-verbal communication skills and consequently, on child language development. 


The findings of the study might have direct implication for Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) by producing suggestions for improvement to the existing policies for school-based early intervention for this population. Overall, the use of research findings, upholding the Froebelian values that every child deserves equal opportunities to lead a healthy and fulfilling life, aims to reduce the impact of a challenging beginning on their future life.

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