Mothers’ mood and babies’ language development

Communicating with babies in infant-directed-speech is considered an essential prerequisite for language development.

A study by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig has shown how maternal mood in the postpartum period affects babies’ development. 

The study explored how well babies can distinguish speech sounds from one another depending on their mother's mood as the ability to distinguish sounds is linked to the ability to distinguish individual words. The study involved 46 mothers whose postnatal mood was measured using a standardized questionnaire. Electroencephalography (EEG) was used to measure how well the babies could distinguish speech sounds from one another. 

The researchers found that if the mothers demonstrated a more negative mood two months after giving birth, their babies showed, on average, less mature processing of speech sounds at six months and had difficulty distinguishing between syllable-pitches.

Mothers suffering from low mood tend to use less pitch variation when directing speech to their infants. This leads to limited perception of different pitches in the children, something that is a prerequisite for further language development.

The results show how important it is that parents use infant-directed speech to promote language development in their children. Mothers who suffer from depression often use more monotonous, less infant-directed speech. Infant-directed speech that varies greatly in pitch focuses babies’ attention on what is being said. 

Read more: Gesa S., et al. (2022) Association of postpartum maternal mood with infant speech perception at 2 and 6.5 months of age. JAMA Network Open, ;5(9):e2232672. 

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