Mother-to-infant bonding is defined as the emotional tie experienced by a mother towards her child, which is considered to be important for the socio-emotional development of the child. Numerous studies on the correlates of both prenatal and postnatal mother-to-infant bonding quality have been published over the last decades. An up-to-date systematic review of these correlates is lacking, however.
To systematically review correlates of prenatal and postnatal mother-to-infant bonding quality in the general population, in order to enable targeted interventions.
MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL, and PsychINFO were searched through May 2018. Reference checks were performed. Case-control, cross-sectional or longitudinal cohort studies written in English, German, Swedish, Spanish, Norwegian, French or Dutch defining mother-to-infant bonding quality as stipulated in the protocol (PROSPERO CRD42016040183) were included. Two investigators independently reviewed abstracts, full-text articles and extracted data. Methodological quality was assessed using the National Institute of Health Quality Assessment Tool for Observational Cohort and Cross-sectional studies and was rated accordingly as poor, fair or good. Clinical and methodological heterogeneity were examined.
131 studies were included. Quality was fair for 20 studies, and poor for 111 studies. Among 123 correlates identified, 3 were consistently associated with mother-to-infant bonding quality: 1) duration of gestation at assessment was positively associated with prenatal bonding quality, 2) depressive symptoms were negatively associated with postnatal mother-to-infant bonding quality, and 3) mother-to-infant bonding quality earlier in pregnancy or postpartum was positively associated with mother-to-infant bonding quality later in time.
Our review suggests that professionals involved in maternal health care should consider monitoring mother-to-infant bonding already during pregnancy. Future research should evaluate whether interventions aimed at depressive symptoms help to promote mother-to-infant bonding quality. More high-quality research on correlates for which inconsistent results were found is needed.