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The Role of Early Postpartum Depression Symptoms on Hemodynamic Response to Infant Cry and Parental Behaviors

Gestational parents experiencing clinical depression during the first postpartum year have demonstrated dampened neural and behavioral responses to infant stimuli. There is limited literature surrounding these trends in subclinical populations during the immediate postpartum period. A total of 58 gestational parents, 2.58 ± 2.53 weeks postpartum on average, reported EPDS (m = 4.76 ± 4.27) and completed a 10-minute interaction with their infant in which behavioral responses were coded using the Emotional Availability scale. Participants completed an additional task using Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy that measured hemodynamic response to their own and another infant cry. EPDS was positively correlated with neural activation across channel S3:D4 in the dorsomedial PFC in response other infant cry (r(58) = .423, p < .001) and own infant cry (r(58) = .261, p = .048). Higher EPDS score was also associated with increased activation in response to other infant cry across channel S6:D6 (r(58) = .265, p = .044) in the dorsomedial PFC and channel S8:D7 (r(58) = .361, p = .005) in the dorsolateral PFC. Whereas there was no significant relationship between neural activation and maternal sensitivity, hostile parenting behaviors were positively correlated with neural activation in response to other infant cry across channel S6:D6 (r(58) = -.327, p = .032) in the dorsomedial PFC. Results suggest that EPDS can have an effect on hemodynamic response in clinical and subclinical populations, that there is a relationship between neural reactivity and parenting outcomes, and that the relationship between EPDS and parental behaviors may not be capable of measurement in the very early postpartum period. These findings could have important implications for research on the risks of depression symptoms toward the development of parent/child interactions and future work should target early-intervention programs for parents.