Beyond early adversity: The role of parenting in infant physical health
Number of pages
SourceJournal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 41, 6, (2020), pp. 452-460
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ BSI ON
PI Group Memory and Emotion
Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics
SubjectAll institutes and research themes of the Radboud University Medical Center; Radboudumc 13: Stress-related disorders DCMN: Donders Center for Medical Neuroscience; Social Development
Objective: Although ample evidence indicates that child health is compromised by early adversity (e.g., abuse and poverty), less is known about the contribution of parenting in low-stress contexts to child health, especially in infancy. This longitudinal study extends previous research on early adversity to ask the question: Does quality of parental care predict infant health in a low-risk community sample? Method: Participants were 187 healthy mothers and their full-term infants (86 girls) from the Netherlands, followed from birth to age 1. Home observations of mothers' behavior were conducted during a naturalistic task (bathing session) when infants were 5 weeks old. Trained researchers interviewed mothers about the infants' health and prescribed antibiotic use every month for 12 months. Infant health problems were categorized into 4 domains according to the International Classification of Primary Care to capture a range of outcomes: respiratory, digestive, skin, and general illnesses and symptoms. Results: Controlling for health-related covariates (e.g., maternal smoking and breastfeeding), maternal sensitivity predicted reduced rates of infant respiratory symptoms and skin conditions and marginally lower prescribed antibiotic use over the first year. Maternal behavior was unrelated to infant digestive and general illnesses. Conclusion: Even in the absence of adversity, quality of maternal care may have implications for the development of physical health, beginning as early as the first year of life. That such findings emerge in a low-risk sample helps rule out potential confounders and underscores the importance of parenting for physical and psychological health outcomes.
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