Targeting adolescent mothers with depressive symptoms for early intervention

Tiffany Field, Jeffrey Pickens, Margarita Prodromidis, Julie Malphurs, Nathan Fox, Debra Bendell, Regina Yando, Saul Schanberg, Cynthia Kuhn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Infants of mothers with depressive symptoms show developmental delays if symptoms persist over the first 6 months of the infant's life, thus highlighting the importance of identifying those mothers for early intervention. In Study 1, mothers with depressive symptoms (n = 160) and mothers without depressive symptoms (n = 100) and their infants were monitored to identify variables from the first 3 months that predict which mothers would still be symptomatic at 6 months. A "dysregulation" profile was noted for the infants of depressed mothers, including lower Brazelton scores, more indeterminate sleep, and elevated norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine levels at the neonatal period, and greater right frontal EEG activation, lower vagal tone, and negative interactions at the 3- and 6-month periods. A group of maternal variables from the neonatal and 3-month assessments accounted for 51% of the variance in the mothers' continuing depressive symptoms. These variables included greater right frontal EEG activation, lower vagal tone, and less positive interactions at 3 months, and elevated norepinephrine, serotonin, and cortisol levels at the neonatal stage. In Study 2, a similar sample of mothers with depressive symptoms (n = 160) and without depressive symptoms (n = 100) was recruited and followed to 3 months. Those symptomatic mothers who had values above (or below) the median (depending on the negative direction) on the predictor variables identified in Study 1 (taken from the first 3 months) were then randomly assigned to an intervention or a control group at 3 months. These groups were then compared with each other, as well as with the group without depressive symptoms, at 6 and 12 months. The intervention, conducted from 3 to 6 months, consisted of free day care for the infants and a rehab program (social, educational, and vocational) plus several mood induction interventions for the mothers, including relaxation therapy, music mood induction, massage therapy, and mother-infant interaction coaching. Although the mothers who received the intervention continued to have more depressive symptoms than did the nondepressed mothers, their interactions significantly improved and their biochemical values and vagal tone normalized. Their infants also showed more positive interations, better growth, fewer pediatric complications, and normalized biochemical values, and by 12 months their mental and motor scores were better than those of the infants in the control group.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)380-414
Number of pages35
Issue number138
StatePublished - Jun 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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