Mother-infant psychoanalysis may create a beneficial circle in the event of poor bonding

Published 2010-04-13 00:00. Updated 2013-11-26 10:29

[NEWS, 13 April 2010] Even when a baby has been longed for, some mothers might have trouble bonding with their baby, who in turn may develop disturbed behaviour, such as crying, poor sleeping patterns and breast refusal. A new thesis to be published at the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet shows that in such cases, the joint psychoanalytic treatment of mother and infant may be effective, particularly if the mother feels that she is unconsciously contributing to the problems.

Björn SalomonssonPhoto: Tommy Engman

In his thesis, physician and pshychoanalyst Björn Salomonsson presents a randomized treatment study of 80 mothers with infants below the age of 18 months who reported problems during visits at CHCs, nursing centres in Stockholm and parenting internet sites. The mothers and babies were divided into two groups of 40, the one receiving Mother-Infant Psychoanalytic treatment (MIP), and the other regular CHC contact only. All babies underwent health screening by a paediatrician and continued their visits to the CHC. In addition, the MIP group received psychoanalytical treatment at the Mother-Infant Psychoanalytic Project of Stockholm over a period of about two months, with two to three sessions a week. Follow-ups were made after six months.

The study showed that the MIP mothers improved on the EPDS depression questionnaire, and that they developed better relationships with the babies and a greater sensitivity to their signals, in comparison with the CHC mothers. Not every baby is that affected by a depressed mother who perhaps cries when she meets his gaze. Others, however, react by rejecting the mother's attempts to make contact and start whining. It was especially in this latter case that MIP was shown to be able to create a virtuous circle between mother and baby.

To assess the interaction between mother and infant and their mental wellbeing, Dr Salomonsson's interviews were filmed and examined by external expert raters. He stresses that more studies are needed before the results may be considered reliable, for example more knowledge about how MIP works on other samples and when the father/partner is involved in the treatment is needed.

Doctoral thesis:

Björn Salomonsson

Baby worries; A randomized controlled trial of mother-infant psychoanalytic treatment

ISBN: 978-91-7409-830-3

Department of Women's and Children's Health, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Principal supervisor: Professor Per-Anders Rydelius. Co-supervisors: professor emeritus Rolf Sandell and associate professor Andrzej Werbart. The thesis defence is scheduled for 16 April 2010.

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