Pre-conception self-harm, maternal mental health and mother-infant bonding problems: a 20-year prospective cohort study

Rohan Borschmann, Emma Molyneaux, Elizabeth Spry, Paul Moran, Louise M. Howard, Jacqui A. Macdonald, Stephanie J. Brown, Margarita Moreno-Betancur, Craig A. Olsson, George C. Patton

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Self-harm in young people is associated with later problems in social and emotional development. However, it is unknown whether self-harm in young women continues to be a marker of vulnerability on becoming a parent. This study prospectively describes the associations between pre-conception self-harm, maternal depressive symptoms and mother–infant bonding problems.

The Victorian Intergenerational Health Cohort Study (VIHCS) is a follow-up to the Victorian Adolescent Health Cohort Study (VAHCS) in Australia. Socio-demographic and health variables were assessed at 10 time-points (waves) from ages 14 to 35, including self-reported self-harm at waves 3–9. VIHCS enrolment began in 2006 (when participants were aged 28–29 years), by contacting VAHCS women every 6 months to identify pregnancies over a 7-year period. Perinatal depressive symptoms were assessed with the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale during the third trimester, and 2 and 12 months postpartum. Mother–infant bonding problems were assessed with the Postpartum Bonding Questionnaire at 2 and 12 months postpartum.

Five hundred sixty-four pregnancies from 384 women were included. One in 10 women (9.7%) reported pre-conception self-harm. Women who reported self-harming in young adulthood (ages 20–29) reported higher levels of perinatal depressive symptoms and mother–infant bonding problems at all perinatal time points [perinatal depressive symptoms adjusted β = 5.40, 95% confidence interval (CI) 3.42–7.39; mother–infant bonding problems adjusted β = 7.51, 95% CI 3.09–11.92]. There was no evidence that self-harm in adolescence (ages 15–17) was associated with either perinatal outcome.

Self-harm during young adulthood may be an indicator of future vulnerability to perinatal mental health and mother–infant bonding problems.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Medicine
Early online date18 Dec 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Dec 2018


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