Oct. 1, 2018

Addressing mental health in new mothers and improving the parent-child relationship

Dr. Nicole Letourneau's VID-KIDS project aims to help educate mothers on recognizing cues from their babies, what they may mean and how they can respond
Dr. Nicole Letourneau, professor and graduate student Elena Ali, UCalgary Nursing
From left: Dr. Nicole Letourneau, professor and graduate student Elena Ali Colleen De Neve

Depression undermines the quality of relationships and nowhere is this truer than the beginning bond a mother has with her baby. “When mom is down and distracted, the baby knows – they are unable to engage with a mother who is not responsive to their cues for interaction,” says Nicole Letourneau, professor and ACHF Chair in Parent-Infant Mental Health. This “serve and return” is crucial to the brain development in these early years.

Letourneau’s VID-KIDS (video interaction feedback for mothers with postpartum depression and their infants) project aims to address this issue by educating mothers on recognizing cues from their babies, what they may mean and how they can respond. The two-year, nurse-administered randomized control trial will recruit between 150 and 200 mothers, screened by public health nurses in Calgary for postpartum depression, who have agreed to take part in the study. The women are shown a series of images of babies’ facial expressions and body language and what they might mean. The mothers are then videotaped interacting with their child and watch the playback with a trained RN who offers positive feedback on the interaction and suggests ideas and social supports for mothers who may be struggling.

“It has the potential to be a very do-able program that can easily be incorporated into any well baby/child clinic,” Letourneau says. “And the program involves only three home visits from a trained RN.”

Two of Letourneau’s graduate students, Julia Imanoff and Elena Ali, are nurse facilitators for VID-KIDS and are learning valuable research skills in participant retention, questionnaire administration and data management, biological sample collection and working on a research team. “VID-KIDS focuses on the unique assessment and support skills of RNs in our capacity to support and potentially offer a treatment for women experiencing postpartum depression and their babies,” says Imanoff.

What's next: An epigenetics study pre-and post VID-KIDS intervention to see if there are changes in a baby’s genetic expression would be a fascinating next step.