Mothers who are more mature tend to display more affection towards their infants whereas teenage mothers often focus on instrumental behaviour – fixing their infant’s clothes or their soother – finds a new study of maternal behaviour.
“While the study is still preliminary, this finding was very surprising,” says Katherine Krpan, lead author of the study, conducted as part of her undergraduate thesis at U of T at Mississauga (UTM). She is currently a PhD student in psychology at U of T. “We expected to see teen mothers exhibit more inappropriate behaviours towards their babies such as poking and prodding, which has been shown by previous research. Instead, they were behaving appropriately but displayed more instrumental behaviour and less affection compared to the adult moms.”
Krpan, along with her co-authors Alison Fleming, Rosemarie Coombs and Dawn Zinga from UTM and Meir Steiner from McMaster University and St. Joseph’s Healthcare, examined the maternal behaviour of 119 mothers in three age groups – teenage mothers (15 to 18 years), young mothers (19 to 25 years) and mature mothers (26 to 40 years), all of whom had given birth within a three-month time span. They were drawn from the Hamilton area at either hospitals or institutions that provide post-natal care. The researchers also analyzed how the mothers’ maternal responses related to their hormonal levels and early childhood experiences.
In the privacy of each participant’s home, the researchers videotaped the mother interacting with her infant for 20 minutes and asked questions about their present mood and their childhood experiences. The researchers found that mothers who received consistent care during their childhoods behaved more affectionately towards their infants than mothers who were raised by frequently changing caregivers.
Saliva samples were also taken from the mother three times during the course of the research to determine how the hormone cortisol changed when the mother interacted with her infant. The study, published in the January issue of Hormones and Behaviour, was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.