Cindy-Lee Dennis, PhD


Dr. Cindy-Lee Dennis’s
Mothering Transitions Research Program

Dr. Cindy-Lee Dennis has a simple maxim: “Healthy babies start with healthy moms.” This belief has lead Dr. Dennis to focus her overall program of research on the rigorous evaluation of interventions to directly improve maternal health, which indirectly enhances infant outcomes. Using her methodological expertise in randomized controlled trials, systematic reviews and meta-analyses, and psychometric assessments, her specific areas of research focus include: (1) improving breastfeeding outcomes; (2) detecting, preventing and treating perinatal depression and anxiety; (3) examining the health of immigrant mothers and infants; and (4) developing postpartum interventions that include fathers.

Dr. Cindy-Lee Dennis has the distinction of holding two research chairs. She holds the Canada Research Chair in Perinatal Community Health at the University of Toronto. At the Women’s College Research Institute, and in partnership with U of T’s psychiatry department and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Dr. Dennis holds the Shirley Brown Chair in Women’s Mental Health Research.

Her more than 100 peer-reviewed publications explore diverse maternal and infant health outcomes, including the prevention, detection and treatment of postpartum depression. Her current focus is the perinatal mental health of both mothers and fathers, and the impact on infant development. Her methodological expertise focuses on randomized controlled trials, and systematic reviews and meta-analyses.

Research Focus 1: Improving Breastfeeding Outcomes

Mother breastfeeding babyAlthough the value of providing infants with human milk has long been understood, a torrent of studies published in the past decade have provided undeniable evidence that breastfeeding reduces morbidity and mortality during the first year of life, not only in developing countries but in North America and Europe as well. Despite the significant research on the barriers to breastfeeding and the many efforts to promote and support it, almost every country in the world fails to meet the World Health Organization’s recommendations for exclusive breastfeeding. Dr. Dennis’s research has addressed this clinical problem in several ways that include breastfeeding self-efficacy and peer support. Read more…

Research Focus 2: Detecting, Preventing, and Treating Perinatal Depression and Anxiety

Depressed womanPostpartum depression is one of the most common forms of maternal morbidity following delivery with approximately 13% of all mothers from diverse cultures experiencing this condition. Studies have clearly documented the negative health consequences of postpartum depression for women and their families. Infants and children are particularly vulnerable due to impaired maternal-infant interactions and negative perceptions of infant behaviour. Dr. Dennis’s research has addressed this clinical problem in a number of ways that include the evaluation of innovative preventative and treatment interventions. Read more…

Research Focus 3: Examining the Health of Immigrant Mothers and Infants

Immigrant mother and babyAccording to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, approximately 5 million people, or 18% of the Canadian population, were foreign-born, increasing to 43.7% in Toronto. Immigration patterns also indicate that 48.7% of all recent immigrants settled in Toronto, rendering it the fastest-growing multicultural city in Canada. Given that 64.2% of the recently immigrated female population is between 15 to 44 years of age, a significant number of immigrant women are in their childbearing years and will require perinatal health care. Dr. Dennis’s research is examining the health of immigrant mothers and infants. Read more…

Research Focus 4: Developing Postpartum Interventions that Include Fathers

Small boy kissing father's cheekWhile fathers’ roles vary widely between and within different social and cultural groups, in most countries fathers have an active role in childcare. As such, fathers can significantly influence child development. A recent meta-analysis suggests that approximately 10.4% of fathers will experience depression in the first year postpartum. Among fathers whose partners experience postpartum depression, the incidence of paternal postpartum depression rises to 25-50%. Unfortunately, much of the perinatal research has excluded fathers. Dr. Dennis’s research is developing interventions that include fathers. Read more…