Maternal antenatal anxiety, postnatal stroking and emotional problems in children: outcomes predicted from pre- and postnatal programming hypotheses



Sharp, H, Hill, J, Hellier, J and Pickles, A
(2015) Maternal antenatal anxiety, postnatal stroking and emotional problems in children: outcomes predicted from pre- and postnatal programming hypotheses. Psychological Medicine, 45 (2). 269 - 283.

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Abstract

Background Mothers' self-reported stroking of their infants over the first weeks of life modifies the association between prenatal depression and physiological and emotional reactivity at 7 months, consistent with animal studies of the effects of tactile stimulation. We now investigate whether the effects of maternal stroking persist to 2.5 years. Given animal and human evidence for sex differences in the effects of prenatal stress we compare associations in boys and girls. Method From a general population sample of 1233 first-time mothers recruited at 20 weeks gestation we drew a random sample of 316 for assessment at 32 weeks, stratified by reported inter-partner psychological abuse, a risk indicator for child development. Of these mothers, 243 reported at 5 and 9 weeks how often they stroked their infants, and completed the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) at 2.5 years post-delivery. Results There was a significant interaction between prenatal anxiety and maternal stroking in the prediction of CBCL internalizing (p = 0.001) and anxious/depressed scores (p < 0.001). The effects were stronger in females than males, and the three-way interaction prenatal anxiety × maternal stroking × sex of infant was significant for internalizing symptoms (p = 0.003). The interactions arose from an association between prenatal anxiety and internalizing symptoms only in the presence of low maternal stroking. Conclusions The findings are consistent with stable epigenetic effects, many sex specific, reported in animal studies. While epigenetic mechanisms may be underlying the associations, it remains to be established whether stroking affects gene expression in humans.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: ## TULIP Type: Articles/Papers (Journal) ##
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 20 Oct 2016 11:26
Last Modified: 04 Apr 2021 11:15
DOI: 10.1017/S0033291714001342
Related URLs:
URI: https://livrepository.liverpool.ac.uk/id/eprint/3002816