Professor Jeannette Milgrom

The Think-Tank seminar series

Can Intervention Improve the Mother-Child Relationship?  Advances in screening and early intervention as public health policy in Australia


Professor  Jeannette Milgrom: University of Melbourne and Director of the Parent-Infant Research Institute and Psychology at Austin Health, Melbourne, Australia

Professor Jeannette Milgrom is an international authority on CBT treatments for antenatal and postnatal depression. She has published a group CBT intervention for postnatal depression which has also been adapted for antenatal depression as an individual treatment and as guided self-help. She is Professor of Psychology, Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne and Director of Clinical and Health Psychology at Austin Health, Melbourne, Australia. Over the past 25 years she has established a psychology hospital department that is held in high regard as a model for integrating clinical services, research and teaching. Professor Milgrom was Chair of the National Executive of the College of Health Psychologists, Australian Psychological Society, 2002-8 and remains an active committee member. She is recipient of 55 research grants (including a number of NHMRC grants and the beyondblue National Postnatal Depression Program - Victorian and Tasmanian sections), and author/editor of 4 books, 13 chapters and published over 85 scientific articles. Jeannette established the Parent-Infant Research Institute in 2001 focusing on high-risk infants, postnatal depression, and developing psychological treatments. She has had international recognition for her work and her book on treating postnatal depression has been translated into Italian and condensed in French.

Date and time

12:00 - 1:00pm, 9 October 2012


A national collaboration of key experts investigated the feasibility of antenatal depression screening across Australia between 2001-2006 (with support from beyondblue). This resulted in the current Federal government commitment of $85M. The National Perinatal Depression Initiative, now at the implementation phase, has three main activities: screening, promoting pathways to care and workforce training. The task is to develop a framework for universal screening in consultation with key stakeholders and government departments and gain national support at all levels.

The ability to treat depression is a necessary pre-requisite for advocating universal screening. A major finding has been that treating the maternal mood disorder is not always sufficient to improve the mother-infant relationship following a depressive episode. A growing number of studies suggest that postnatal depression interferes with a woman’s ability to engage in the behavioural and emotional interchanges with her baby, and that this may need to be redressed to maximize infant development.

The results of the public health initiative will be discussed in the context of the need to develop mother-infant interventions to reduce the impact of negative maternal depression on early brain development and child outcomes.

A brief description of the H.U.G.S program (Happiness, Understanding, Giving and Sharing) will follow with a description of its development based on common elements found in existing approaches. This has resulted in a simple three-pronged intervention to enhance attunement and engagement. We have also demonstrated in randomized trials the effectiveness of antenatal intervention in reducing parenting difficulties postnatally. Finally, the direct effect of improved interactions on brain development has been demonstrated in an intervention for premature infants to improve parental sensitivity, which has been shown to result in changes in brain function as measured on MRI.