Guided by the main tenets of contemporary models of the developmental origins of health and disease, this study evaluated whether individual differences in reactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) moderate the effect of prenatal exposure to trauma on internalizing and externalizing behaviors during infancy. Participants were a community sample of 182 mothers (M age = 25 years, 43% Caucasian, 33% Black/African American, 24% Biracial/Other) and their infants (59% girls; M age = 11.8 months). Each mother completed questionnaires that assessed IPV experienced during pregnancy and also reported on her infant's behavior problems. Infant saliva samples (later assayed for cortisol and sAA) were collected before and after a frustrating task (i.e., arm restraint). Results revealed that the association between in utero IPV and infant internalizing behaviors was most pronounced for infants with asymmetrical HPA-SNS (i.e., high-cortisol and low-sAA) reactivity to frustration, and least pronounced for infants with symmetrical HPA-SNS (i.e., low-cortisol and low-sAA or high-cortisol and high-sAA) reactivity to frustration. Higher levels of externalizing behavior, in contrast, were associated with higher levels of prenatal IPV but unrelated to either cortisol or sAA reactivity to stress. Findings replicate documented associations between maternal IPV exposure during pregnancy and offspring risk. Moreover, findings advance our understanding of individual differences in the developmental origins of health and disease and provide additional evidence that assessing multiple stress biomarkers contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of individual vulnerability to adversity.
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All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
- Obstetrics and Gynaecology