Skip to main content

CBT for Women With Postpartum Depression May Make Babies’ Brains Healthier

February 01, 2021

Treating mothers with postpartum depression with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) resulted in adaptive changes in the brains and behavior of their babies, in addition to helping the women, according to a study published in Depression and Anxiety.

Researchers at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, found that the infants displayed positive changes in their nervous and cardiovascular systems after their mothers received treatment.

The study's participants consisted of 80 infants—40 whose mothers had a primary diagnosis of major depressive disorder and 40 healthy control infants whose mothers were classified as nondepressed. The participants were matched based on similar age, sex, and socioeconomic status.

The Importance of Weighing Options When Treating Postpartum Disorders

Infant emotion regulation was assessed following the mother’s first CBT session and again after the mother received the full 9 weeks of treatment, using resting‐state frontal electroencephalography alpha asymmetry (FAA), heart rate variability (HRV), and a questionnaire of maternal and partner ratings of orientation or regulation behaviors.

According to the questionnaire, both the mothers and fathers observed that the infants could better regulate their behaviors and emotions.

"This study shows that cognitive behavioral therapy, a treatment that is short, cost-effective and preferred by women, could potentially reduce the intergenerational transmission of risk from mother to child," researchers said.

"We believe that this is the first time that anyone has shown that treating moms' postpartum depression can lead to healthy changes in the physiology of the brains of their infants, a finding that we think provides a lot of good news," said senior author, Ryan Van Lieshout, MD, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience, McMaster University.

—Meagan Thistle


Krzeczkowski J, Schmidt L, Lieshout V. Changes in infant emotion regulation following maternal cognitive behavioral therapy for postpartum depression. Depression and Anxiety. 2021;1-10.

Treating moms with postpartum depression helps their babies’ brains [press release]. Hamilton, Ontario: McMaster University; January 20, 2021.

Back to Top