How Is Infant Development Impacted When the Mother Has BPD?
Can a Mother With Borderline Personality Disorder Influence Infant Development?
From birth to age one, babies experience a monumental number of milestones. During their first year of life, babies develop a bond with their parents or other caregivers. It is during this time that babies learn to love and trust, which is dependent on the way parents interact with, hold, play, and cuddle their infants. Developing trust during the first year of life is a key milestone for later social and emotional development: It sets the stage for how a baby will interact with others as they grow.
When babies do not develop a bond with their parents or other caregivers and do not learn to trust that the parent will respond to their needs, lifelong complications can ensue. Research has examined the effect of mothers with borderline personality disorder on their infants. Science has discovered that, even in this earliest stage of development, a mother's borderline personality disorder (BPD) influences infant development.
Mothers with BPD are inconsistent in fulfilling their infant's needs because they cannot interpret those needs. This is similar to the problem that women with BPD have in adult relationships when interpreting the needs of their friends or significant other. Furthermore, mothers with BPD report a myriad of feelings when they become a mother: estranged, anxious, overwhelmed, and angry.
Although it is important to conduct research on how a mother with BPD may influence the early development of her infant, little research has been conducted to date. This article will examine three studies that all built on the scientific evidence provided in the first study discussed.
Why Does This Happen?
There are a myriad of symptoms associated with BPD, including emotional instability and extreme difficulty with interpersonal relationships. In general, these symptoms are thought of in terms of how a woman with BPD interacts with another adult. However, researchers were curious if mothers with BPD showed the same emotional instability and difficulty with interpersonal relationships with their own infants.
In fact, researchers demonstrated that concept in a study with mothers with BPD and their 2-month-old infants. Compared to mothers who did not have BPD, mothers with BPD demonstrated the characteristic intrusive intensity often seen in their adult relationships.
Interpersonal Relations and Development in Infants
Another group of researchers followed up on this finding with their own study. The second group of researchers thought the way mothers with BPD interacted with their infants would influence the infant's development of interpersonal relationships as well as influencing the overall development of the infant. These scientists hypothesized that, even as early as the baby's first birthday, an infant who had a mother with BPD would have already developed problems related to maintaining emotional equilibrium during stressful interpersonal encounters.
To test their hypothesis, the researchers included mothers with BPD and their infants as well as mothers without BPD and their infants. All babies were 12 months old. All mothers and babies participated in three activities:
- First, the babies interacted with a "still-faced" stranger.
- Then, babies participated in the "Strange Situation."
- Finally, mothers and babies played together with toys.
The babies of mothers with BPD had negative outcomes compared to the babies with non-BPD mothers:
- When interacting with a "still-faced" stranger, babies of mothers with BPD were less available for positive engagement, and they received decreased ratings for behavior organization and mood state.
- While taking part in the Strange Situation, most babies with mothers with BPD were categorized as having behavioral disorganization.
- Mothers with BPD were shown to be intrusively insensitive when playing with toys with their babies.
How Do Mothers With BPD Perceive Their Parenting?
One additional study was conducted to examine mothers with BPD and their relationship with their infants. Scientist asked mothers with and without BPD to participate in their study. All their children were between 3 months and 36 months old.
- First, all mothers completed questionnaires that asked mothers about their own perceptions of their parenting.
- Then, mother and infant pairs were observed, and their interactions were rated.
Compared to controls (controls = mothers without BPD), there were several important findings for mothers with BPD:
- When reporting on their own parenting, mothers with BPD said they were less satisfied, less competent, and experienced more distress related to motherhood.
- These mothers demonstrated less structure when interacting with their babies.
- They were also less sensitive to their baby's needs, were less attentive to their babies, and seemed to be less interested and eager to interact with their babies.
Findings From Reviewed Studies
Age of Child
Mothers demonstrated intrusive intensity.
Babies were less available for positive engagement, displayed behavioral disorganization, and mothers were intrusively insensitive.
Mothers displayed disorganized interactions with babies, were less sensitive and attention to baby's needs, and mothers felt less satisfied and competent with motherhood.
Want to Know More?
Mothers with BPD influence their children at every stage of development, not just in infancy. To read about how mothers with personality disorders influence development in early childhood, see this article about children from ages 3 to 7.
Crandell, L. E., Patrick, M. P. H., & Hobson, R. P. (2003). 'Still-face' interactions between mothers with borderline personality disorder and their 2-month-old infants. The British Journal of Psychiatry: The Journal of Mental Science, 183, 239-247. doi:10.1192/bjp.183.3.239
Hobson, R. P., Patrick, M., Crandell, L., García-Pérez, R., & Lee, A. (2005). Personal relatedness and attachment in infants of mothers with borderline personality disorder. Development and Psychopathology, 17(2), 329-347. doi:10.1017/s0954579405050169
Newman, L. K., Stevenson, C. S., Bergman, L. R., & Boyce, P. (2007). Borderline personality disorder, mother-infant interaction and parenting perceptions: Preliminary findings. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 41(7), 598-605. doi:10.1080/00048670701392833
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.