Maternal symptoms of depression are related to observations of controlling feeding practices in mothers of young children

Maternal depression can impair parenting practices and has been linked with less sensitive feeding interactions with children, but existing research is based on self-reports of feeding practices. This study aimed to examine relationships between maternal self-reported symptoms of depression with observations of mothers’ child feeding practices during a mealtime. Fifty-eight mothers of 3-4 year old children were video recorded eating a standardised lunch. The recording was then coded for instances of maternal controlling feeding practices and maternal vocalisations using the Family Mealtime Coding System. Mothers also provided information on current symptoms of depression and anxiety. Mothers who reported greater symptoms of depression were observed to use more verbal and physical pressure for their child to eat and to offer more incentives or conditions in exchange for their child eating. Mothers also used more vocalisations with their child about food during the observed mealtime when they had greater symptoms of depression. There was no link between symptoms of depression and observations of maternal use of restriction. Symptoms of depression are linked with observations of mothers implementing a more controlling, less sensitive feeding style with their child. Health professionals working with families where mothers have symptoms of depression may benefit from receiving training about the possible impact of maternal depression on child feeding practices, while mothers with symptoms of depression may benefit from guidance regarding its potential impact on their child feeding interactions.