Maternal prenatal and early postnatal distress and child stress responses at age 6
Number of pages
SourceStress : The International Journal on the Biology of Stress, 22, 6, (2019), pp. 654-663
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ BSI AO
SW OZ BSI ON
Stress : The International Journal on the Biology of Stress
SubjectAll institutes and research themes of the Radboud University Medical Center; Radboudumc 13: Stress-related disorders DCMN: Donders Center for Medical Neuroscience; Social Development; Work, Health and Performance
Individuals differ in their physiological and behavioral stress responses. Alterations in these responses have been associated with mental and physical health. Therefore, it is important to understand how stress responses develop. This study investigated whether in a healthy, non-risk population, 6-year-old's physiological (cortisol) and behavioral (gazing) stress responses were associated with stress early in the child's life, in the form of maternal prenatal and early postnatal distress. Additionally, associations between the two stress responses were studied. At age 6, children (n = 149; Mage = 6.09; 70 girls) in a longitudinal project that started prenatally (n = 193), participated in a social evaluative stress test (Children’s Reactions to Evaluation Stress Test, CREST) in front of a judge. To operationalize physiological stress responses six cortisol saliva samples were collected and cortisol stress reactivity and total stress cortisol scores were calculated. To operationalize behavioral stress responses, gazing at the judge during the stress test was observed. Maternal prenatal distress (week 37) was measured using questionnaires and physiological measures, that is, cortisol saliva samples. Early postnatal maternal distress (first 6 months) was measured using questionnaires. Results of hierarchical regression analyses indicated that less maternal prenatal fear of giving birth, higher maternal prenatal evening cortisol concentrations, and more maternal feelings of anxiety in the first 6 postnatal months were all uniquely associated with higher total stress cortisol concentrations in children at age 6. Additionally, correlations indicated that children with higher cortisol stress reactivity gazed less in the direction of the judge. Results indicate that maternal prenatal and early postnatal distress are associated with children's later hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis functioning and that in children gazing and physiological stress reactivity are related. Lay summary: We examined whether maternal stress and anxiety during pregnancy, as measured by means of maternal self-reports and saliva cortisol samples, as well as maternal stress and anxiety in the first 6 months of the child's life, measured using maternal self-reports, were associated with children’s physiological (cortisol) and behavioral (gazing) responses during a stressful laboratory situation at the age of 6. Results showed that mothers with higher levels of distress in late pregnancy and/or the early postnatal period had children with higher cortisol concentrations during the stressful situation. This suggests that maternal prenatal and early postnatal distress are associated with children’s later hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis functioning.
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