BACKGROUND: 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.
OBJECTIVE: To systematically review correlates of prenatal and postnatal mother-to-infant bonding quality in the general population, in order to enable targeted interventions.
METHODS: 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.
MAIN RESULTS: 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.
CONCLUSION: 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.