Background: Postpartum psychosis (PP) is the most severe psychiatric disorder associated with childbirth. However, there is little research on maternal bonding towards the infant and parenting stress in this clinical population. Methods: We investigated maternal bonding during pregnancy and post-partum in 75 women: 46 at risk of PP (AR), because of a DSM-IV diagnosis of bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder or previous PP, and 29 healthy controls. Of the AR women, 19 developed a psychiatric relapse within 4 weeks’ post-partum (AR-unwell), while 27 remained symptom-free (AR-well). We investigated childhood maltreatment, parenting stress and psychiatric symptoms as potential predictors of maternal bonding. Results: In pregnancy, AR-unwell women reported a more negative affective experience towards their infants than AR-well women (d = 0.87, p = .001), while postnatally there was no significant difference in bonding. In contrast, AR women as a group reported a more negative affective experience than HC postnatally (d = 0.69, p = .002; d = 0.70, p = .010), but not antenatally. Parenting stress and psychiatric symptoms significantly predicted less optimal postnatal bonding (b = -0.10, t = -4.29, p < .001; b = -0.37, t = -4.85, p < .001) but only psychiatric symptoms explained the difference in bonding between AR and HC (b = -1.18, 95% BCa CI [-2.70,-0.04]). Limitations: A relatively small sample size precluded a more in-depth investigation of underlying pathways. Conclusion: This study provides new information on maternal bonding in women at risk of PP, and particularly in those that do and do not develop a postpartum relapse. The results suggest that improving maternal symptoms and parenting stress in the perinatal period in women at risk of PP could also have positive effects on bonding.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)210-219
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Early online date5 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021


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