BACKGROUND In a recent study, 20% of the variance in the weight of infants of mothers with eating disorders was accounted for by mealtime conflict.
AIMS To investigate the antecedents and interactive processes involved in the development of such conflict.
METHOD Mothers with eating disorders and their 12-month-old infants (n = 34) and a comparison group (n = 24) were videotaped during infant mealtimes. Specific classes of antecedents to conflict episodes were identified. An examination was then made of all such antecedents not leading to conflict and the mother-infant responses to each antecedent.
RESULTS Within the index group, conflict was less likely when mothers acknowledged infants' cues and were able to put aside their own concerns. The relationship between maternal responses and the evolution of conflictual interaction was confirmed in multiple regression analyses including both index and comparison groups.
CONCLUSIONS Mothers' and infants' responses to potential antecedents to conflict had an impact on whether mealtime conflict ensued. Conflict arose because maternal eating disorder psychopathology interfered with aspects of responsive parenting.