• Lateralisation of holding infants;
  • maternal depression;
  • maternal stress;
  • parent–child interaction

Background:  Studies show that 65–85% of mothers cradle their infants to the left side of their body, but that this bias changes with maternal mood and stress. The present study examines the hypothesis that maternal stress and depression status will influence the cradling bias differentially.

Method:  As part of a larger study on mother–infant interaction, mothers (N = 79) were asked to pick up and briefly hold their children in their arms (44 boys, 35 girls; mean age 7.2 months, range 3 to 14 months).

Results:  Results indicated that 86% of mothers who were neither stressed nor depressed cradled to the left and 14% to the right. Comparing the cradling side of stressed mothers with those who were neither stressed nor depressed, more in the former group showed right-sided cradling. In contrast, mothers who were just depressed preferred to cradle to the left.

Conclusion:  The lack of a left-sided cradling bias might be due to stress rather than depression experienced by mothers.

Furthermore, this study provides evidence that the state of maternal mental health might be indicated by the side on which they cradle their child preferentially.