Prenatal Origins of Infant Temperament: Exploring Interrelationships Between Pregnancy Anxiety, Physiological Stress, and Maternal Attachment Status
Erickson, Nora Louise
MetadataShow full item record
Previous research indicates that prenatal maternal mental health can confer risk for offspring development across various domains, including the development of infant temperament. Despite prior equivocal findings related to the effects of prenatal depression and anxiety on infant temperament, the construct of pregnancy-specific anxiety has emerged as an important predictor of infant and child outcomes, and links between pregnancy-specific anxiety and infant temperament have been demonstrated among a small but well-designed subset of research. Little is known, however, about biological and psychosocial factors that may inform interrelationships between pregnancy-specific anxiety and infant temperament. The present project consisted of two studies exploring effects of prenatal anxiety, pregnancy-specific anxiety, maternal chronic cortisol levels, and maternal prenatal attachment styles on early development of infant negative emotionality. Study 1 included eligible participants (n = 142) who completed questionnaires about their prenatal mental health and attachment to romantic partners and the fetus during the third trimester of pregnancy, as well as follow-up questions about their infant’s temperament at approximately two months postpartum. Maternal attachment styles were explored independently and as moderating variables in the relationship between pregnancy-specific and infant negative emotionality. According to Study 1 results, pregnancy-specific anxiety did not predict infant negative emotionality in any of the models, nor were there any significant moderating effects. Two significant prenatal predictors (i.e., state anxiety and maternal anxious attachment) were no longer significant after controlling for postpartum state anxiety. In the final model exploring simultaneous effects of all attachment styles, the only significant prenatal predictor of infant negative emotionality was maternal attachment to the fetus. Study 2 included a small sub-set of participants (n = 25) who completed all portions of Study 1 and contributed a hair sample for chronic cortisol analyses. More specifically, chronic cortisol measured in the late-second and third trimester was explored as a biomarker of maternal prenatal distress, given indications that the HPA axis may play an important role in the programming of infant temperament. Results of study 2 did not support any hypothesized relationships between chronic cortisol concentrations and infant negative emotionality, maternal perinatal anxiety, or maternal attachment styles.