Best Scientific Poster Awarded for Group Mother-infant Interaction Intervention Study

Best Scientific Poster Awarded for Group Mother-infant Interaction Intervention Study

The Parent-Infant Research Institute (PIRI) is excited to have received an award for Best Scientific Poster at the Australasian Marce Society & Tresillian Family Care Centre’s ‘New Paradigms in Parenting, Perinatal Mental Health & Wellbeing‘ Virtual Conference, 9-10 September 2021.

Professor Jeannette Milgrom, director at PIRI, said “we are thrilled to have received this award and feel honored. PIRI have been conducting mother-infant research for close to two decades and this project is very special to us.”

The paper, Improving the mother-infant relationship following postnatal depression: A randomised controlled trial of a brief intervention (HUGS), was published by Charlene Holt1, Carole Gentilleau2, Alan W. Gemmill1, and Jeannette Milgrom1,3

The study evaluated the effect of a brief, group mother-infant interaction intervention (“Happiness, Understanding, Giving and Sharing”: HUGS), compared to a control playgroup, both following cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) for PND, on mother-infant relationships and early child developmental outcomes.

Postnatal depression (PND) is highly prevalent, causes enormous suffering and disrupts the crucial mother-infant relationship on which optimal child development depends. Well-evaluated, brief mother-infant interaction interventions that can be integrated into PND treatment are needed, and have the potential to improve relationships.

The study concluded that HUGS was shown to be effective at improving observer-rated mother-infant interactions, as well as self-reported mother-infant bonding, suggesting that treatment for PND may be enhanced by incorporating HUGS interaction work to target the disrupted mother-infant relationships that tend to accompany PND.

A strength of this study is the rigorously conducted RCT, and measurement of both the mother-infant relationship and early child development, addressing deficits in previous research. Compared to many other mother-infant interventions, a highly novel contribution is that the HUGS intervention is brief and can be added to existing PND treatment.

A longer-term follow-up and larger sample size may be needed for improved mother-infant relationships to show an impact on observable child developmental outcomes.

The huge economic costs associated with PND, a large proportion of which are attributable to the lasting adverse impacts on children (Luca et al., 2020), highlight the importance of this area of research.

As a result of this successful study, PIRI has further developed HUGS into Community HUGS (CHUGS) and eHUGS to broaden the reach of this program and provide additional support to Australian mothers, children and their families.

CHUGS introduces learners to key understandings about working to enhance the mother-infant interaction and relationship. It introduces PIRI’s approach to working with mothers and their babies who are recovering from a range of adversities that might impact on bonding and attachment in the early postnatal period, including postnatal depression and anxiety, difficult pregnancy and birth, maternal or baby illness, difficult family history or childhood adversity.

eHUGS is our newest mother-infant relationship program. The core therapeutic elements of our well-established HUGS mother-infant attachment programs have been translated to an e-format using play exercises for mothers to use themselves every day in interactions with their baby. eHUGS consists of 4 interactive modules with step-by-step guidance which assist mothers to become more fully engaged and attuned to their infant.

There is an urgent need for early intervention to reduce the immediate and long-term impact on not only women but on their children and families. PIRI remains absolutely committed to working with families and health professionals to ensure better outcomes and a brighter future.


1. Parent-Infant Research Institute, Austin Health

2. Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Toulouse University Hospital (CHU de Toulouse)

3. Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne

Holt, C., Gentilleau, C., Gemmill, A.W., Milgrom, J. (2021) Improving the mother-infant relationship following postnatal depression: A randomised controlled trial of a brief intervention (HUGS). Archives of Women’s Mental Health.