Handbook of Infant Mental Health, Third Edition

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Handbook of Infant Mental Health, Third Edition

Handbook of Infant Mental Health Handbook of Infant Mental Health Third Edition edited by Charles H. Zeanah, Jr. TH

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Handbook of Infant Mental Health

Handbook of Infant Mental Health Third


edited by Charles H. Zeanah, Jr.


© 2009 The Guilford Press A Division of Guilford Publications, Inc. 72 Spring Street, New York, NY 10012 www.guilford.com All rights reserved No part of this book may be reproduced, translated, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, microfilming, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the publisher. Printed in the United States of America This book is printed on acid-free paper. Last digit is print number:  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1 The editors have checked with sources believed to be reliable in their efforts to provide information that is complete and generally in accord with the standards of practice that are accepted at the time of publication. However, in view of the possibility of human error or changes in medical sciences, neither the editors nor publisher, nor any other party who has been involved in the preparation or publication of this work warrants that the information contained herein is in every respect accurate or complete, and they are not responsible for any errors or omissions or the results obtained from the use of such information. Readers are encouraged to confirm the information contained in this book with other sources. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Handbook of infant mental health / edited by Charles H. Zeanah, Jr. — 3rd ed.    p. cm.   Includes bibliographical references and index.   ISBN 978-1-60623-315-3 (hardcover: alk. paper)   1.  Infant psychiatry—Handbooks, manuals, etc.  2.  Infants—Mental health—Handbooks, manuals, etc.  I.  Zeanah, Charles H., Jr.   RJ502.5.H36 2009   618.92′89—dc22 2009022544

About the Editor

Charles H. Zeanah, Jr., MD, is the Mary K. Sellars-Polchow Chair in Psychiatry, Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, and Vice Chair for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. He is also Executive Director of the Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health at Tulane. Dr. Zeanah has a longstanding interest in infant mental health, especially abuse and neglect in young children, attachment and its disorders, psychopathology, and infant–parent relationships. Throughout his career, his clinical and research focus has been on early experiences and their effects. Since 1994, together with Julie Larrieu, PhD, and Anna Smyke, PhD, he has led a community-based intervention program for abused and neglected infants and toddlers in the New Orleans area. Since 2000, with Charles Nelson, PhD, and Nathan Fox, PhD, he has been a Co-Principal Investigator of the Bucharest Early Intervention Project, a longitudinal, randomized controlled trial of foster care as an alternative to institutional care among severely deprived, abandoned young children in Romania. Among his honors are the 2006 Irving Phillips Award for Prevention from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, a 2007 Presidential Citation for Distinguished Research and Leadership in Infant Mental Health from the American Orthopsychiatric Association, the 2008 Sarah Haley Memorial Award for Clinical Excellence from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and the Blanche F. Ittelson Award for Research in Child Psychiatry from the American Psychiatric Association. Dr. Zeanah is a Fellow of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, and a Board Member of Zero to Three.



Adrian Angold, MD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina François Ansermet, MD, Department of Psychiatry and Department of Pediatrics, University of Geneva School of Medicine, Geneva, Switzerland Diane Benoit, MD, FRCPC, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada Jessica L. Borelli, PhD, Department of Psychology, Pomona College, Claremont, California Neil W. Boris, MD, Department of Psychiatry, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana Sarah R. Brand, MA, Department of Psychology, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia Angela S. Breidenstine, PhD, Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana Margaret J. Briggs-Gowan, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, Connecticut Charles Brinamen, PsyD, Infant–Parent Program, Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California Melissa M. Burnham, PhD, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, University of Nevada, Reno, Reno, Nevada Themba Carr, BA, Autism and Communication Disorders Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan Alice S. Carter, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts, Boston, Boston, Massachusetts Lisa J. Cohen, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, Beth Israel Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, New York Glen Cooper, MA, Circle of Security Project, Spokane, Washington Barbara Danis, PhD, Institute for Juvenile Research, Department of Psychiatry, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois




Carolyn J. Dayton, MSW, MA, Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan Cindy DeCoste, MS, Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut Elisabeth M. Dykens, PhD, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee Helen Link Egger, MD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina Michelle Bosquet Enlow, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, Children’s Hospital Boston, Boston, Massachusetts Nicolas Favez, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland Elisabeth Fivaz-Depeursinge, PhD, Center for Family Studies, University of Lausanne, Prilly, Switzerland France Frascarolo, PhD, Center for Family Studies, University of Lausanne, Prilly, Switzerland Mary Margaret Gleason, MD, Department of Psychiatry and Neurology and Department of Pediatrics, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana Leandra Godoy, MA, Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts, Boston, Boston, Massachusetts Sherryl H. Goodman, PhD, Department of Psychology, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia Sydney L. Hans, PhD, School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois Sarah Hinshaw-Fuselier, PhD, School of Social Work, University of Texas, Austin, Texas Robert M. Hodapp, PhD, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee Kent Hoffman, RelD, Circle of Security Project, Spokane, Washington Chandra Michiko Ghosh Ippen, PhD, Child Trauma Research Program, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California Kadija Johnston, LCSW, Infant–Parent Program, Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California Miri Keren, MD, Geha Mental Health Center, Petah Tiqva, Israel Jane Knitzer, EdD (deceased), National Center for Children in Poverty, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, New York Nina Koren-Karie, PhD, School of Social Work and Center for the Study of Child Development, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel Julie Larrieu, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana Marva L. Lewis, PhD, Tulane University School of Social Work, New Orleans, Louisiana Alicia F. Lieberman, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco San Francisco, California Catherine Lord, PhD, Autism and Communication Disorders Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan Joan L. Luby, MD, Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri



Megan C. Mahowald, MA, Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minneapolis, Minnesota Susan E. Marakovitz, PhD, Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts Robert S. Marvin, PhD, Mary D. Ainsworth Child–Parent Attachment Clinic, Charlottesville, Virginia Linda Mayes, MD, Yale Child Study Center, New Haven, Connecticut Maia Miller, PhD, Counseling and Psychological Services, Columbia University, New York, New York Devi Miron, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana Maria Muzik, MD, Department of Psychiatry, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan Geoffrey A. Nagle, PhD, Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana Charles A. Nelson, PhD, Department of Medicine, Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts Carole Müller Nix, MD, Department of Psychiatry, University of Lausanne School of Medicine, Lausanne, Switzerland Thomas G. O’Connor, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York David Oppenheim, PhD, Department of Psychology and Center for the Study of Child Development, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel Judith Owens, PhD, Department of Pediatrics, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island David B. Parfitt, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York Deborah F. Perry, PhD, Center for Child and Human Development, Georgetown University, Washington, DC Bert Powell, MA, Circle of Security Project, Spokane, Washington Joe Reichle, PhD, Department of Speech–Language–Hearing Sciences, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minneapolis, Minnesota Anne Rifkin-Graboi, PhD, Children’s Hospital Boston/Division of Developmental Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts Katherine L. Rosenblum, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan Lois S. Sadler, PhD, RN, Yale University School of Nursing, Yale Child Study Center, New Haven, Connecticut Daniel S. Schechter, MD, Department of Psychiatry, University of Geneva Faculty of Medicine, Geneva, Switzerland Michael S. Scheeringa, MD, MPH, Department of Psychiatry, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana Margaret Sheridan, PhD, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts Arietta Slade, PhD, Department of Clinical and Developmental Psychology, City University of



New York, New York, New York; Visiting Research Scientist, Yale Child Study Center, New Haven, Connecticut Anna T. Smyke, PhD, Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana Nancy Suchman, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut Tricia A. Thornton-Wells, PhD, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee Matthew J. Thullen, MS, AM, School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois Patricia Van Horn, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California Lauren S. Wakschlag, PhD, Institute for Juvenile Research, Department of Psychiatry, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois Erica Willheim, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, New York Jennifer Windsor, PhD, Department of Speech–Language–Hearing Sciences, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minneapolis, Minnesota Charles H. Zeanah, Jr., MD, Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana Paula Doyle Zeanah, PhD, Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana



t is very gratifying to be writing a preface to the Handbook of Infant Mental Health, Third Edition. A third edition implies that the Handbook represents something more than a passing fad. I have been a fortunate witness to the growth of the field of infant mental health, from its quiet origins in which a handful of luminaries inspired a larger group of young professionals like me, to its broad acceptance today in community, medical, educational, legal, and even legislative settings. Increasingly, the message about the importance of early experiences for children, and the vital role of caregiving relationships seems to have taken hold. It is worth taking a moment to reflect on how amazing it is that the field’s message about early experiences has been not only transmitted but received. In his inaugural address, President Obama said, “It is … a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.” What better measure of the acceptance of infant mental health than that! It wasn’t always so. For many years, when I said I was interested in infant mental health, the reactions typically ranged from mild bemusement to dismissive eye rolling. There were occasional exceptions, as when I proposed an intervention program to the statewide Director of Child Protective Services 15 years ago. Frustrated by years of testifying in cases of young children who had experienced abuse and neglect, and feeling like I had made little impact on the legal process for parents or children, I began to think that only a programmatic effort could make a difference. I thought that if there was a team of professionals responsible for the assessment and treatment of the child, the biological parents, and the foster parents, and if this team worked closely with Child Protective Services, perhaps we could have an impact. In anticipation of the meeting, I wrote a letter to the Director of Child Protective Services in which I told her about a mother and young child I had known. The little girl had gotten some scissors and cut off one of her pigtails that her mother had painstakingly braided and decorated with ribbons. Her mother had become so enraged about the severed pigtail that she had attacked her child briefly before being restrained by others who were present.




What I emphasized in my letter was that for the young mother, this incident had a particular meaning. With only one pigtail, her daughter seemed “defective,” and “unacceptable,” issues that were quite important for the mother herself based on her own experiences. Her sense of unacceptability and defectiveness was something she worked hard to maintain out of awareness. Her rage reflected but also obscured the hurt she had experienced in her relationship with her own mother and represented a particularly sensitive area in her psychological makeup. I pointed out that this young mother knew that she was wrong to choke her daughter. She did not need skill-building parenting classes or even classes in anger management. She knew that she had overreacted, but she did not know why. She needed to understand why her intense emotional reaction had overwhelmed her judgment and what about her daughter’s missing pigtail reminded her of her own unhappy childhood. To my surprise, when I met with the Director and made my pitch, she paused, looked thoughtful, and then said, “The story in your letter resonated with me. You know, I am tired of investing so many resources in children and adolescents who have had such severe, entrenched problems for so long. I’d like to see what might happen if we intervene earlier. Maybe if someone worked with that mother and daughter, we could break the cycle.” At the time, hearing this from such an important gatekeeper was nothing short of amazing. Nowadays, of course, it is no longer unheard of to find state officials who understand that early experiences matter, that the meaning of a young child to a parent is crucial, and that relational treatment approaches are valuable. But in those days, understanding this, much less being willing to embark in this new direction, was rare indeed. Soon after my meeting, the Director made good on her promise of funding. The Infant Team was created, and my colleagues and I began work that has been some of the most satisfying of my career. Of course, challenges remain. As I write this preface, I am also fighting for the survival of the Infant Team in the face of massive state budget cuts. Beyond that individual program, even with all the services that have been put into place in Louisiana, nationally, and elsewhere, only a tiny fraction of the need is being addressed. And, as much as we have learned about development, we are only scratching the scientific surface. New studies, new approaches, new understandings await our creative and energetic commitment. This book attempts to include both the major themes of infant mental health during the past three decades as well as new developments and applications. Therefore, it retains the structure of the first two editions, but with updated content and a number of new topics. Even so, many worthy topics could not be included. The authors represent many of the people who are responsible for the remarkable acceptance that infant mental health has achieved beyond the halls of academia. Not all of them even consider themselves part of our field, but their efforts on behalf of young children and families in the discovery, dissemination, and application of knowledge about early childhood development and psychopathology stands as an impressive and invaluable achievement. Once again, I thank my outstanding contributors for their hard work, scholarship, and commitment. I did not intend to single out any particular contributor, but recently, Jane Knitzer died. Jane had been a leading voice in policy and advocacy on behalf of young children and their families and was always a great champion of infant mental health. From her position at the National Center for Children in Poverty, she wrote repeatedly about the need for more support for families of young children. We will sorely miss her and her ever thoughtful and effective efforts. The Guilford Press team has been great from the beginning of the first edition. Kitty Moore and Seymour Weingarten have been consistently supportive and have had remarkably clear vision about what is needed and when. More important, they have made the process enjoyable. Jeannie Tang oversaw the production of this edition and was helpful, timely, and responsive. I am indebted to them all.



My team at Tulane has been wonderful. They inspire and inform me on a daily basis. I could not ask for a more supportive, dedicated, hardworking, selfless group. Their tireless efforts have contributed to developing a remarkable array of available services for young children and their families throughout our state and beyond. They also have provided me with a fun, caring, and stimulating work environment for many years. Diann Schoeffler assisted me not only with this book but also with just about every other professional endeavor I have engaged in for the past 7 years. Her task is unenviable, her tolerance immeasurable, and her help invaluable. Finally, my favorite—the home team. Paula, Emily, Matt, Katy and Mel—what can I say? Thanks just isn’t enough for all that you are.



The Scope of Infant Mental Health

1 5

Charles H. Zeanah, Jr., and Paula Doyle Zeanah 2.

The Psychology and Psychopathology of Pregnancy: Reorganization and Transformation


Arietta Slade, Lisa J. Cohen, Lois S. Sadler, and Maia Miller 3.

Neurobiology of Fetal and Infant Development: Implications for Infant Mental Health


Margaret Sheridan and Charles A. Nelson 4.

Neurobiology of Stress in Infancy


Anne Rifkin-­G raboi, Jessica L. Borelli, and Michelle Bosquet Enlow 5.

Infant Social and Emotional Development: Emerging Competence in a Relational Context


Katherine L. Rosenblum, Carolyn J. Dayton, and Maria Muzik 6.

The Sociocultural Context of Infant Mental Health: Toward Contextually Congruent Interventions


Chandra Michiko Ghosh Ippen 7.

Applying Research Findings on Early Experience to Infant Mental Health Thomas G. O’Connor and David B. Parfitt






Poverty and Infant and Toddler Development: Facing the Complex Challenges

133 135

Jane Knitzer and Deborah F. Perry 9.

Infants of Depressed Mothers: Vulnerabilities, Risk Factors, and Protective Factors for the Later Development of Psychopathology


Sherryl H. Goodman and Sarah R. Brand 10.

Parental Substance Abuse


Neil W. Boris 11.

Prematurity, Risk Factors, and Protective Factors


Carole Müller Nix and François Ansermet 12.

The Effects of Violent Experiences on Infants and Young Children


Daniel S. Schechter and Erica Willheim 13.

The Relational Context of Adolescent Motherhood


Sydney L. Hans and Matthew J. Thullen


Parent Reports and Infant–­Toddler Mental Health Assessment

231 233

Alice S. Carter, Leandra Godoy, Susan E. Marakovitz, and Margaret J. Briggs-Gowan 15.

Clinical Use of Observational Procedures in Early Childhood Relationship Assessment


Devi Miron, Marva L. Lewis, and Charles H. Zeanah, Jr. 16.

Infant–­Parent Relationship Assessment: Parents’ Insightfulness Regarding Their Young Children’s Internal Worlds


David Oppenheim and Nina Koren-Karie


Classification of Psychopathology in Early Childhood

281 285

Helen Link Egger and Adrian Angold 18.

Autism Spectrum Disorders


Themba Carr and Catherine Lord 19.

Communication Disorders


Jennifer Windsor, Joe Reichle, and Megan C. Mahowald 20.

Intellectual Disabilities


Robert M. Hodapp, Tricia A. Thornton-Wells, and Elisabeth M. Dykens 21.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder


Michael S. Scheeringa 22.

Sleep Disorders Judith Owens and Melissa M. Burnham




Feeding Disorders, Failure to Thrive, and Obesity



Diane Benoit 24.

Characterizing Early Childhood Disruptive Behavior: Enhancing Developmental Sensitivity


Lauren S. Wakschlag and Barbara Danis 25.



Joan L. Luby 26.

Attachment Disorders


Charles H. Zeanah, Jr., and Anna T. Smyke


Child–­Parent Psychotherapy: A Developmental Approach to Mental Health Treatment in Infancy and Early Childhood

435 439

Alicia F. Lieberman and Patricia Van Horn 28.

The Circle of Security


Bert Powell, Glen Cooper, Kent Hoffman, and Robert S. Marvin 29.

Principles of Family Therapy in Infancy


Nicolas Favez, France Frascarolo, Miri Keren, and Elisabeth Fivaz-­Depeursinge 30.

The Mothers and Toddlers Program: An Attachment-Based Intervention for Mothers in Substance Abuse Treatment


Nancy Suchman, Cindy DeCoste, and Linda Mayes 31.

Foster Care in Early Childhood


Anna T. Smyke and Angela S. Breidenstine 32.

Psychopharmacology in Early Childhood: Does It Have a Role?


Mary Margaret Gleason


Training in Infant Mental Health

531 533

Sarah Hinshaw-­F uselier, Paula Doyle Zeanah, and Julie Larrieu 34.

Infant Mental Health in Primary Health Care


Paula Doyle Zeanah and Mary Margaret Gleason 35.

Mental Health Consultation: A Transactional Approach in Child Care


Kadija Johnston and Charles Brinamen 36.

The Economics of Infant Mental Health


Geoffrey A. Nagle

Author Index


Subject Index


Pa r t I



hose concerned with the mental health of infants and toddlers must be aware of the twin themes of development and context. Infants become who they are gradually within multiple contexts, ranging from the intrinsic contexts of infants’ own genetics and neurobiology to the external contexts of parents, families, culture, and class. The importance of multiple contexts to understanding the young child’s development was famously underscored by the title of the Institute of Medicine Report on the Science of Early Childhood Development, From Neurons to Neighborhoods (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000). Each of these contexts transact with one another and with the developing person in complex ways over time. Of particular interest to clinicians are those contexts that are mutable. These become the focus for efforts to reduce risk processes, mobilize protective processes, and enhance infant competence. The most crucial and experience near of these mutable contexts is the primary caregiving relationship of the young child. The relationship itself, of course, is also powerfully affected by all of the other contexts. Because of its importance to the young child, the primary caregiving relationship (or relationships) is the major focus of assessment and intervention. The focus of this volume is infant mental health, and it begins with our introduction to the topic (Zeanah & Zeanah) in Chapter 1. We consider how infant mental health is defined, review its empirical foundations, and highlight the clinical, research, and policy implications of the field. In keeping with the essence of infant mental health, we underscore the twin themes of infants as actively developing and interacting with interrelated contexts. In Chapter 2 Slade, Cohen, Sadler, and Miller consider the psychology and psychopathology of pregnancy. Pregnancy is the first psychological and biological context for infant development and where the first relationship for the baby begins. Experiences for the mother and the infant during this unique period have important implications for postnatal development. In addition, a woman’s pregnancy with one child may affect her relationship with other children as well. Laudably, and in keeping with the contextual theme, the authors also consider the




father’s experience during pregnancy. Throughout they emphasize pregnancy both as a vital developmental phase and as a period of clinical importance. Sheridan and Nelson, in Chapter 3, review the neurobiology of brain development, pointing out the numerous influences on that process and highlighting the importance of neural plasticity. Behavioral and brain plasticity are central concerns of infant mental health. Of particular value to the infant mental health practitioner is the discussion of the neurobiology of infant temperament because of its well-known importance for development and psychopathology. The authors conclude by emphasizing the need for bridging the gap between brain and behavior in human studies. In Chapter 4 Rifkin-­Graboi, Borelli, and Bosquet Enlow consider in depth the important topic of the neurobiology of stress in infancy. This complex, increasingly studied topic is an active area of research on the effects of different experiences on infant development. The authors describe how neurobiological systems respond to stress, what constitutes stress in infancy, how individual differences influence stress responsivity, and how chronic stress exposure in infancy may affect longterm responses to stress, as well as mental and physical health. Chapter 5, by Rosenblum, Dayton, and Muzik, details the process of development in the first 3 years of life, concentrating on emotional and social development. They highlight the complex transactions between infant and parent across multiple interrelated contexts that lead progressively to social and emotional competence. Throughout, they emphasize the centrality of the parent–­infant relationship as the crux of the dynamic developmental interplay of transactions impacting infant development. They delineate the processes that tend to guide the infant toward social and emotional competence and provide evidence for the positive effects of support for the parent–­infant relationship. Attending to the complex transactions between infant and parents provides opportunities for changing infants’ developmental trajectories from less to more adaptive outcomes. In Chapter 6 Ghosh Ippen emphasizes the importance of cultural differences on infant development but also on the transactions that occur between families and clinicians. She makes a compelling case for the need for careful listening, introspection about our assumptions and values, and awareness of and sensitivity to cultural differences in order to reach families of young children. She emphasizes the need for us to develop interventions that are congruent not only with the family’s culture but also with other key contextual factors. She concludes with a diversity-­awareness model that can be used to identify diversity-­related conflicts and guide interventions. The section concludes with Chapter 7, on the importance of early experiences, in which O’Connor and Parfitt revisit a debate that has been ongoing for decades in light of new evidence. Put simply, this debate concerns the degree to which early experiences have long-­lasting effects and whether or not experiences in the earliest years are more important than experiences that occur later in development. The authors point out that although important gains in this area have been made, much remains unclear. The most compelling work comes from animal studies, but the translational challenges of interpreting that evidence is considerable. They


also remind us that the field has a great need for studies that can examine complex interactions among different factors simultaneously. With new efforts, we should develop not only clearer understanding of the effects of early experiences but also address key questions about how and when these experiences may be altered in the service of enhancing social and emotional competence. REFERENCE National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.


Chapter 1

The Scope of Infant Mental Health Charles H. Zeanah, Jr. Paula Doyle Zeanah


nfant mental health has emerged as an increasingly important and visible clinical endeavor during the past 35 years. There are many ways to trace its origins. In the clinical realm the work of Selma Fraiberg and her colleagues in Michigan (Fraiberg, Adelman, & Shapiro, 1975) was a major early contributor, as was research in developmental psychology on the power of babies to affect their caregivers (Bell, 1968). From these beginnings, the field of infant mental health has grown dramatically both in terms of its breadth and its acceptance. In the early 21st century, the field of infant mental health stands as a broad-based, multidisciplinary, and international effort to enhance the social and emotional well-being of young children and which includes the efforts of clinicians, researchers, and policymakers. Still, as a relatively new field, a number of questions ought to be considered. For example, how is infant mental health defined? Some have expressed puzzlement or even aversion to the term “infant mental health.” The idea of an “infant,” with its associations of innocence, beginnings, and hope for a better future, does not seem to fit with “mental health,” and its associations of maladjust-

ment, stigma, and major mental illness. Is it reasonable to think of infants as having mental health problems? Or does it make more sense to think about them as being at risk for problems later? There are also questions about “infant mental health” as a profession. In a multidisciplinary field how is core knowledge versus specialized knowledge determined? Are infant mental health interventions qualitatively different from mental health interventions for older children and adolescents? Finally, how is infant mental health similar to, and distinct from, other closely related multidisciplinary fields, such as developmental psychopathology? We begin by defining infant mental health and considering its scope. We suggest that the relational framework of infant mental health distinguishes it from work with older children and adolescents. We review some of the major empirical foundations of the field, highlighting the implications of these foundations for an infant mental health perspective. Finally, we emphasize the need for comprehensive approaches to intervention and highlight some evidenced-based programs. Throughout, we emphasize the policy implications of this work. 5



DEFINING INFANT MENTAL HEALTH A Steering Committee on Infant Mental Health was convened by Zero to Three and tasked with creating a definition of infant mental health. What emerged was a definition of infant mental health as a characteristic of the child. That is: the young child’s capacity to experience, regulate, and express emotions, form close and secure relationships, and explore the environment and learn. All of these capacities will be best accomplished within the context of the caregiving environment that includes family, community, and cultural expectations for young children. Developing these capacities is synonymous with healthy social and emotional development. (Zero to Three, 2001)

This definition seems to have met with widespread acceptance by the field (Zeanah, Gleason, & Zeanah, 2008). In addition, infant mental health can be defined as a multidisciplinary professional field of inquiry, practice, and policy, concerned with alleviating suffering and enhancing the social and emotional competence of young children. Infant mental health is multidisciplinary because the complex, interrelated nature of human development and its deviations requires expertise and conceptualizations beyond the capabilities of any particular discipline. For the same reason, it is likely that the field of infant mental health will remain pluralistic, a subspecialty within a number of different disciplines, rather than an integrated and distinct discipline itself. A definition is also needed for what we mean by the term “infant.” In pediatrics, infant usually refers to the first year of life. In mental health, there is a tradition that infant refers more broadly to the period from birth to 3 years. In this chapter, however, we use an even broader conceptualization. First, as famously declared in From Neurons to Neighborhoods (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000), focusing disproportionately on birth to 3 years “begins too late and ends too soon” (p. 7). Because there is considerable evidence regarding prenatal influences on many clinical problems in early childhood (see Robinson et al., 2008), we include prenatal experience in our conceptualization of infant mental

health. We also extend the upper age limit from 3 to 5 or so years, because much research and many clinical programs extend somewhat beyond the first 3 years. Beyond these definitions, several tenets regarding the clinical practice of infant mental health merit attention. These include a focus on strengths in infants and families, a relational framework for assessment and intervention, and a prevention orientation. Infant mental health is a strengths-based discipline. This means that clinicians work to identify strengths from which to build competence and address problems. One could rightly argue that all mental health professionals ought to work from a strengthsbased perspective, but it seems especially important in a field that focuses on the crucial and vulnerable beginnings of parent–child relationships. Our children are extensions of ourselves, and when they do not thrive, we experience it as a reflecting profoundly on us as parents. Nevertheless, being strengthsbased does not mean ignoring liabilities (Zeanah, 1998). Clinicians must identify problems in young children and in their parents unflinchingly in order to address them effectively. Further, there is often a complex interrelationship between strengths and weaknesses, such that strengths may be obscured by weaknesses but also possibly mobilized to ameliorate weaknesses. Infant–­caregiver relationships are the primary focus of assessment and intervention efforts in infant mental health, not only because infants are so dependent upon their caregiving contexts but also because infant competence may vary widely in different relationships. Assessments in infancy always are considered a form of intervention, as they may have important impacts on both infant and family. Moreover, intervention efforts always involve prevention, because the infant is considered as constantly developing, and the infant’s developmental trajectory must be attended to in addition to hereand-now adaptation. This means that there is a simultaneous focus on relieving current suffering as well as attending to future development, all through attention to primary caregiving relationships (Zeanah, Stafford, Nagle, & Rice, 2005; Zeanah, Stafford, & Zeanah, 2005; Zeanah & Zeanah, 2001). Just as young infants engender hope for a better future in general, the field of infant

1. The Scope of Infant Mental Health

mental health strives to delineate, establish, and sustain positive developmental trajectories for young children. In all of these efforts, the empirical foundations of infant mental health have broadened and deepened in ways that have important implications for practice and policies.

EMPIRICAL FOUNDATIONS OF INFANT MENTAL HEALTH Basic knowledge salient to infant mental health has been bolstered by research in genetics, basic neuroscience, child development, developmental psychopathology, and by studies of clinical disorders and their treatment. Investigations in these areas provide the empirical foundations of infant mental health.

Early Experiences Matter Considerable research has documented the importance of early experiences for the developing person. Brain circuits are being established at an extremely rapid rate in the early years of life, and various experiences influence not only how brains function but also the neural architecture of how they develop. We are only just beginning to attempt to understand the details about how experiences influence brain development, but evidence in humans on this point is growing (see Sheridan & Nelson, Chapter 3, this volume). Although mild to moderate stress can be growth promoting, so-­called toxic stress can impair the proper development of brain circuitry, which may be especially vulnerable during early childhood (Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008). If individuals develop a lower threshold for stress, thereby becoming overly reactive to adverse experiences throughout life, both physical and mental health can be compromised (see also RifkinGraboi, Borelli, & Bosquet Enlow, Chapter 4, this volume). For example, in the adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study, adults receiving treatment from a health maintenance organization (HMO) were interviewed about early childhood experiences of abuse, neglect and household dysfunction. The number of childhood risk factors was linearly related to a large number of health


and mental health outcomes. The more adverse experiences individuals reported having, the more likely they were to engage in risky health behaviors and to be diagnosed with disorders such as depression, alcoholism and substance abuse, heart disease, cancer, chronic pulmonary disease, obesity, and diabetes, among others (Dube, Felitti, Dong, Giles, & Anda, 2003; Feletti et al., 1998). These findings remind us that infant mental health has important implications for health as well as mental health outcomes. A related question concerns the ways in which the timing of experiences matter, usually framed as a “sensitive period” or “critical period” hypothesis. Knudsen (2004) notes that the period during which the effects of experience on the brain are particularly strong is referred to as a sensitive period, whereas experiences that provide information that is crucial for normal development and alter performance permanently are known as critical periods. Animal literature reveals that sensitive and critical periods in brain development are evident (Knudsen, 2004). Knudsen (2004) also notes that sensitive and critical periods are actually properties of neural circuits, though we may be most interested in how the effects of these various periods are expressed at the level of behavior. For example, Nelson et al. (2007) studied children removed from institutional care in the first 3 years of life and placed in foster families and reported increases in IQ. For children removed prior to 24 months the gains were substantial, but for those removed after 24 months, the gains were few. For a construct as complex as IQ, we would expect to find an enormous number of circuits with different sensitive or critical periods involved. In keeping with these findings, infant mental health has the importance of infant experience as a core principle. Escalona (1967) anticipated this emphasis almost half a century ago when she noted that it is not infant or environmental characteristics that matter so much; rather it is the infant’s subjective experience of the world. Indeed, developmental psychopathology has demonstrated that stabler individual differences lie initially in the infant–­caregiver relationship, only later becoming a characteristic of the individual child. Further, how an individual



thinks about relationship experiences—the internal representation or working model— is crucial because the meanings an individual attributes to experiences may alter their consequences (Sroufe, 1989; Sroufe & Rutter, 2000). For the infant mental health clinician, the task becomes nothing less than attempting to understand what an individual child’s experience is and to help that child’s caregivers empathically appreciate that experience. From a policy perspective, even more daunting is the challenge of attempting to extend this appreciation of an infant’s experience to the level of systems, such as the child protection system or the legal system. How different the lives of infants in dire circumstances might be if these large and complex systems better appreciated and valued their experiences (Knitzer, 2000).

Essential Experiences Involve Caregiving Relationships The importance of the contexts, or environments, in which infants grow and develop is well established. Appreciating the complexities and importance of context has enhanced our understanding of infant development and our ability to predict developmental trajectories (Sameroff & Fiese, 2000). Contexts exert their effects from within and from without, determining which experiences an infant has and how that infant perceives those experiences. One of the most distinctive features of the early years is the clear importance of the multiple interrelated contexts (infant–­caregiver relationship, family, cultural, and so forth) within which infants develop. For young children, infant–­ caregiver relationships are the most important experience-near context for infant development and are the distinctive focus of the infant mental health field. A considerable body of research has documented the importance of the quality of the infant–­caregiver relationship and its impact on infant development (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000). In fact, although individual differences in infant characteristics are readily identifiable, they are not particularly predictive of subsequent characteristics later in development. Positive qualities in infant–­parent relationships, such as warmth, attentive involvement, and

sensitive resolution of distress, have been linked to more optimal social, emotional, and cognitive development (see Crockenberg & Leerkes, 2000). In addition, parents who promote the development of self-­regulation and minimize problematic behavioral tendencies have children who avoid maladaptive trajectories (Degnan, Henderson, Fox, & Rubin, 2008; Gardner, Sonuga-Barke, & Sayal, 1999). Conversely, parents who have problematic relationships with their young children may increase the likelihood of maladaptive outcomes in them (Scheeringa & Zeanah, 2001). Infant–­parent relationships moderate intrinsic biological risk factors in infants (McCarton et al., 1997). That is, infants with biological difficulties, such as the complications of prematurity or adverse temperamental dispositions, have better outcomes when their caregiving environments are supportive, and they have more problematic outcomes when their caregiving environments are less supportive. Further, attachment relationships moderate the effects of prenatal stress on child fearfulness at 17 months, even after controlling for the effects of postnatal stress, as well as obstetric, social, and demographic factors (Bergman, Sarkar, Glover, & O’Connor, 2008). Infant–­parent relationships also are the conduit through which infants experience environmental risk factors (Zeanah, Boris, & Scheeringa, 1997). That is, infants experience risk factors such as poverty, maternal mental illness, and partner violence primarily through the effects of those factors on infant–­parent relationships. Infants are impacted by the risk factors that characterize their caregiving environments through their specific relationship experiences. The bottom line: Relationships can buffer or exacerbate risk. Finally, increasingly we are learning that the way in which psychopathology is expressed in young children depends on the types of relationships they have with their caregivers (Zeanah et al., 1997). Research has shown that infants, in fact, construct different types of relationships with different caregivers (Steele, Steele, & Fonagy, 1996), and they also may express symptoms in the presence of once caregiver but not with another (Zeanah, Bakshi, Boris, & Lieberman, 2000). And, there is evidence that how an

1. The Scope of Infant Mental Health

individual processes relationship experiences, through an internal working model, is importantly related to outcomes (Sroufe, 1997). For all of the above reasons, the focus of infant mental health has been dominated by a relational approach. This means that infants are best understood, assessed, and treated in the context of their primary caregiving relationships. Or as Sroufe (1989) put it, “Most problems in the early years, while often manifest poignantly in child behavior, are best conceptualized as relationship problems” (p. 70). Beyond the infant–­caregiver dyad, we must consider infant development in the context of the entire family. Not only is infant development related to characteristics of the family considered as a whole (Minuchin, 1988), but there are important effects on development from the infants individualized relationships with various family members (Crockenberg, Lyons-Ruth, & Dickstein, 1993; Favez, Frascorola, Keren, & Fivaz-­Depeursinge, Chapter 29, this volume). For example, considerable evidence indicates that the parents’ marital relationship is one of the most important influences on child development (Cummings & Davies, 2002). Sibling influences on infant development are less well studied, but they are likely vitally important. Understanding family processes is a complex undertaking. Emde (1991) has pointed out, for example, that the numbers of dyadic relationships within families increases dramatically with increasing numbers of children. Whereas two parents and one child have only three dyadic relationships to consider, two parents and three children have 10 dyadic relationships, and two parents and five children have 21 dyadic relationships, and so forth. Further, an infant’s relationships with various family members are influenced by various other relationships within the family. The numbers of dyadic relationships influencing individual family members increase from 3 for two parents and one child, to 45 for two parents and three children, to 210 for two parents and five children (Emde, 1991). Obviously, one could also consider other levels of complexities, such as how an infant and his or her relationships might be affected by the triadic relationship of his or her parents and another sibling. Nevertheless, these levels of


complexity are rarely considered in research or even in our clinical conceptualizations. Beyond the immediate family of the infant, still other familial influences are important, chief among which are the cultural contexts within which infants develop. Cultural beliefs and value systems define the assumptions of the group about what is important and the rules about raising children to be a certain way. Parenting beliefs, explanations, and interpretations of infant behavior are among the most important components of the cultural context of infant development (Lewis, 2000). These beliefs include sometimes subtle cultural assumptions about what facilitates infant development, the causes and amelioration of psychopathology, the roles and relevance of parenting, and many other concerns central to infant mental health. Cultures typically develop adaptively in response to larger environmental characteristics, such as the physical resources of the area in which the culture develops. Often differences among cultural belief systems can be understood within those larger contexts. In recent decades, however, technological advances have thrust different cultures together with increasing rapidity and led to intense cultural clashes, efforts at cultural coexistence, and pressures for cultural integration in the global village. All of these factors have significant implications for infant development and mental health. The policy implications of these findings are clear and can be simply stated: Policies aimed at supporting families and other caregiving relationships, such as child care, are most likely to provide needed supports for infant development (Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 2007).

Supporting Developmental Trajectories The rapidity and profundity of development in the first 3 years of life is unprecedented in the postnatal human life cycle. In a mere 36 months, infants change from totally dependent newborns to complex creatures who can come and go as they please; understand that they can share thoughts, feelings, and intentions with others; express themselves abstractly using symbols; and empathize with others (Zeanah & Zeanah, 2001). From an infant mental health perspective, this developmental continuum means not only think-



ing about where the infant is now but also where the infant has been and where the infant is going. It also requires understanding not only what capacities are emerging in the developing child but also the processes involved in establishing trajectories of development.

Risk and Protective Factors Risk and protective factors impact developmental trajectories, increasing or decreasing the risks of developmental disruptions and psychopathology. These risk factors are used to define high-risk groups, such as infants born preterm, infants of depressed mothers, and infants raised in institutions. On the other hand, risk factors are neither randomly distributed nor unrelated to one another. Complexly interacting risk factors within groups are the rule rather than the exception. In other words, although intervention programs may target single risk factors, such as substance abuse, maternal depression, or early parenthood, most of the time, infants face multiple risk factors. Studies of many types of risk factors, from mild to severe, consistently have been shown to lead to quite variable outcomes (Sroufe & Rutter, 2000). In fact, it appears that the number of risk factors rather than the nature of any one is the best predictor of outcomes (Sameroff & Fiese, 2000). For example, prenatal substance exposure is widely accepted to be a risk factor for infant development (Boris, Chapter 10, this volume). Nevertheless, Carta et al. (2001) studied the effects of prenatal exposure and environmental cumulative risks. They found that although both prenatal drug exposure and cumulative environmental risk predicted children’s developmental level and rate of growth, environmental risk accounted for more variance in developmental trajectories than prenatal drug exposure. In fact, over time, the effects of environmental risk outweighed the adverse consequences of prenatal substance exposure. Protective factors may directly reduce the effects of risk, may enhance competence, or may protect the individual against adversity (Garmezy, Masten, & Tellegen, 1984). Protective processes may operate simultaneously or successively even within the same individual in the face of different challenges and at different points in development.

As noted, the field of infant mental health has a long tradition of focusing on strengths and using strengths to minimize risks (Knitzer, 2000; Zeanah, 1998). A central concern then, for, infant mental health is how to balance the influence of risk and protective factors and their mutual effects on a child’s particular situation. In addition, in the first few years of life, it appears that environmental risk and protective factors matter more than within-the-­infant risk and protective factors. In the Rochester longitudinal study, for example, highly competent infants in high-risk environments fared worse in terms of competence at age 4 years than did low-­competent infants in low-risk environments (Sameroff, Bartko, Baldwin, Baldwin, & Seifer, 1998). Thus, identifying, supporting, and strengthening caregiver and family strengths is a fundamental principle underlying the work of infant mental health practitioners and provides direction for policymakers interested in supporting young children.

Psychopathology May Be Evident Early Can infants and toddlers experience or express psychopathology? The existence of psychopathology in infancy has been the source of considerable controversy in part because we are reluctant to believe that infants can experience or suffer from psychiatric disorders (Zeanah et al., 1997). Behavioral indicators of infant mental health include emotion regulation, the ability to communicate feelings to caregivers, and active exploration of the environment. These behaviors lay the groundwork for later social and emotional competence, readiness to enter school, and better academic and social performance. One major approach to studying psychopathology in the early years is a multidisciplinary endeavor known as developmental psychopathology. It concerns identifying developmental trajectories and those risk and protective factors and processes that increase or decrease the probability of positive developmental outcomes. Clinical disorders may be less than fully differentiated in infancy (but see Angold & Egger, 2007, regarding preschool children). Developmental psychopathology emphasizes identification of individuals with developmental delays (development is behind where it ought to be, but the child is otherwise normal) or deviance

1. The Scope of Infant Mental Health

(development is abnormal) even before an actual disorder has emerged. Thus, preventive interventions, targeted to children with risk factors but not yet manifesting a disorder, can be developed. Finally, because there is interest in the process of how disorders develop, the field of developmental psychopathology studies the evolution of disorders over time rather than simply examining signs and symptoms at a single point in time. Psychopathology often is characterized by the inability to change and adapt, but infants are constantly changing by developing. This means that infant problems must be distinguished from the often large range of normal variations in behavior and from transient perturbations in development. Obviously, one way to address this challenge is to follow children over time and determine whether problems persist. On the other hand, it is important to recognize that psychopathology and maladaptation may not produce static symptomatology; rather, the manifestations of problems may be different at different times in development. For example, indiscriminate behavior toward unfamiliar adults in early childhood is a predictor of serious peer relational disturbances in adolescence (Hodges & Tizard, 1989)—the continuity is in interpersonal disturbances, but they manifest differently at different ages. Lawful developmental transformation of symptomatology, known as heterotypic continuity, adds to the complexity of assessing psychopathology in infancy and early childhood. For an individual child, however, risk factors are less important than the actual development and functioning of that individual child at a given time. Clinicians must determine whether a given child, at a given moment, has sufficient distress or maladaptive behavior to constitute a disorder that requires intervention. This area introduces the other approach to psychopathology in infancy, which is to consider that at least some infant problem behaviors are signs and symptoms of psychiatric disorders. Clinicians have found the use of categorical diagnostic approaches to be valuable in young children, as they allow for conceptualizing how clusters of symptoms hang together and provide clearer indicators of “caseness” than do dimensional scores of various constructs. Though some still hesitate to describe early deviant behavior as psychopathology,


rather than risk for psychopathology, there are increasingly compelling reasons to think that doing so is a useful approach. For example, most would agree that autism represents a disorder, and there are compelling indicators that autism as a disorder is evident at least as early as the second year of life (see Carr & Lord, Chapter 18, this volume). There are almost certainly neurobiological abnormalities and behavioral differences that are evident even before the second year, but the reliability of a categorical diagnosis of autism from about 2 years of age is reasonable. New studies are beginning to show that many types of psychiatric disorders are prevalent in young children. A recent study of more than 300 two- to five-year-old children attending pediatric clinics in Durham, North Carolina found that 16% had diagnosable psychiatric disorders associated with impairment in functioning (Egger et al., 2006). This prevalence rate in nonreferred preschool children is almost identical to the 13% rate reported in older children and adolescents (Costello, Mustillo, Erkanli, Keeler, & Arnold, 2003). There also has been progress in distinguishing transient individual differences from true psychopathology. Belden, Thomson, and Luby (2008) studied temper tantrums in healthy versus depressed and disruptive preschoolers. They found that preschoolers diagnosed with disruptive behavior disorders had more tantrums, more lasting tantrums, and more violent tantrums than other children. Preschoolers diagnosed with depression, in contrast, displayed more self-harm during tantrums than their healthy or disruptive peers. The conclusion is that children having more violent tantrums and tantrums associated with self harm require more careful monitoring and perhaps referral for assessment. In addition, separation anxiety as a disorder can be differentiated from more transient separation anxiety in 2-year-old children by the degree of impairment (Egger, 2008). Despite all of these findings, there has been widespread dissatisfaction among clinicians about using DSM-IV-TR (American Psychiatric Association, 2000) criteria to diagnose disorders in young children. New diagnostic classifications systems have been created to provide more developmentally appropriate criteria, and also to provide a



basis for studying the construct validity of diagnoses. Zero to Three’s alternative nosology has been recently updated as DC:0–3-R (Zero to Three, 2005), and is in use in many parts of the world. In addition, the Research Diagnostic Criteria for Infants and Preschoolers (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2003) was developed by clinical investigators to enhance uniformity in research efforts. Finally, the DSMV, scheduled for publication in 2012, has an explicit goal of incorporating a developmental focus, including age-­related subtypes of disorders where the evidence warrants it (Pine et al., 2008). This level of activity underscores considerable interest in psychiatric disorders in young children. We believe that at this early stage of the science of infant mental health, both the risk and protective factor approach of developmental psychopathology and the categorical disorder approach of many clinical studies have merit and are worthy of further investigation. Each approach, in fact, may complement the other. In addition, we must concern ourselves not only with adverse outcomes but also with desired outcomes and how to achieve them. This point leads to a discussion of how best to promote healthy outcomes in infant mental health.

Social Competence and Resilience Health is sometimes defined as the absence of disease, although increasingly researchers and clinicians are concerned with health promotion, that is, in enhancing individuals quality of experience. One aspect of “quality of experience” is social competence, the ability to adapt successfully to differing social and environmental demands. Social competence, of course, is an ongoing adaptive capacity that itself may change over time in relation to different stressors and situations. A focus on competence also reminds us that symptoms alone do not make a disorder; their functional significance for the individual also must be considered. Social competence has emerged as an increasingly important outcome in infant mental health, as well as in studies of developmental psychopathology. A special form of social competence receiving increasing attention is resilience. Resilience is demonstrated by infants and young children who achieve positive out-

comes despite high-risk status, who maintain competent functioning despite stressful life circumstances, and who recover from traumatic events and experiences (Masten & Coatesworth, 1998). Increasingly, it has become clear that resilience, like competence, is a multidimensional construct, and one that changes over time and context. In addition, it may be that rather than being resilient to many problems, individuals may be resilient to some stressors but not to others (Rutter, 2000). For children in the early years, having a relationship with a caregiver who is available and responsive to their needs, able to help them navigate the demands of development over time, is likely to be the most important factor in helping them to achieve positive outcomes, maintain competent functioning under stress, and recover from traumatic experiences. Young children who have the capacity to elicit support and positive responses from others may be at an advantage in this regard (Werner & Smith, 2001). Enforcing policies that support families—­especially those that have limited resources—from the time they are expecting through their child’s early years is the best way to enhance young children’s competent functioning (Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 2007).

Some Early Problems Are Enduring As noted above, not all problem behaviors seen in the early years are transient. We turn next to consider examples of enduring qualities of at least some forms of psychopathology and consider the implication of these findings. We consider first the subsyndromal risk factor of aggression and then consider the categorical diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder.

Aggression Aggression, defiance, and temper tantrums typically peak in early toddlerhood and decrease by school entry; however, some children do not show this normative decline. In the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) study of child care, investigators identified a cluster of children who exhibited very high levels of aggression at age 2 years and again at age 9 years (National Institute of Child Health

1. The Scope of Infant Mental Health

and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network, 2004). Family correlates of children with stable high levels of aggression included lower social class, less maternal education, reduced sensitivity to the child, harsh and punitive parenting, depressive symptoms in the parent, and parents having fewer child-­centered attitudes. Similarly, in a longitudinal study of 318 children at ages 2, 4, and 5 a latent profile analysis resulted in two distinct longitudinal profiles of disruptive behavior (Degnan, Calkins, Keane, & Hill-­Soderlund, 2008). One high-­aggression profile was characterized by high child reactivity (children who reacted strongly and quickly to frustration) combined with highly controlling maternal behavior. Another was characterized by low child regulation (poor efforts to regulate emotions) combined with low levels of maternal control. In both of these studies, aggression is stable over time and associated with stable parental characteristics. Aggression in young children is not without consequences. Gilliam (2005) determined that state-run pre-K programs have three times the rate of expulsion of grades K–12. The reason young children get expelled from child care centers and pre-K is almost always aggression. Longer-term consequences are also important, as aggressive school-age children may begin a path toward antisocial behavior in adolescence or adulthood (Frick & Marsee, 2006).

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder It is well known that many adults and older children who have been severely traumatized develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), showing signs of hyperarousal, reexperiencing the trauma, avoiding reminders of the trauma, and/or numbing of responsiveness. A series of studies of young children has demonstrated that these same symptoms are apparent in infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, although their manifestations are different than in older children and adults because of obvious developmental differences (see Scheeringa, Chapter 21, this volume). In addition, two studies that have followed the course of traumatized young children indicate that signs and symptoms exhibited following a traumatic event are not transient. Scheeringa, Zeanah, Myers, and Putnam (2005) studied 62 children with


mixed traumatic experiences 4 months, 16 months, and 28 months after the trauma. They found significant stability of symptoms over the 2 years, with almost no diminishment of symptoms. Meiser-­Stedman, Smith, Glucksman, Yule, and Dalgleish (2008) studied 62 preschool children 2–4 weeks and 6 months after they had experienced motor vehicle accidents. They found that the diagnosis of PTSD was moderately stable over the 6-month interval, even though the initial assessment occurred before a month had passed from the accident. Treatment studies of PTSD that include control groups also indicate a similar persistence of symptoms over time. For example, Lieberman, Van Horn, and Ippen (2005) studied the effectiveness of child–­parent psychotherapy as a treatment of PTSD in young children exposed to partner violence. The comparison condition was case management, involving monthly telephone contact with the mothers as well as providing information about and referrals to, local mental health clinics. Immediately after treatment (1 year after the trauma), the group who received child–­parent psychotherapy showed statistically significant improvements in child posttraumatic stress symptoms, but the group receiving case management showed no significant diminishment of signs of PTSD. These results show that young children receiving case management and sometimes referral experienced stability in their symptoms over 12 months.

Implications These findings are selective rather than comprehensive, but they illustrate that it is no longer acceptable to assume that early­appearing symptomatology is always, or even usually, transient. Furthermore, there are reasons to believe that intervening earlier is more effective—at least for some domains of development. Dishion and colleagues (2008) suggest three reasons why earlier intervention may be more beneficial. First, earlier interventions may target child behaviors before they take on a more serious form. In their focus on externalizing problems, they argue that noncompliant and oppositional behaviors are easier to remediate than are lying, stealing, and proactive aggression. Second, if children are younger, then parents are also



younger and may have had fewer stressful experiences and more capacity to change. Third, the sense of optimism caregivers have regarding the possibility of parent–child relationship change is much higher during their offspring’s early childhood. Knudsen and colleagues (Knudsen, Heckman, Cameron, & Shonkoff, 2006) pointed out that there is a convergence of findings from child development, neuroscience, and economic research indicating that greater return on investments are to be expected when intervening earlier. Citing studies from all three areas of research, they present compelling evidence that early intervention is more likely to be effective, providing a basis for policies that support a broad array of early childhood initiatives (see Knitzer & Lefkowitz, 2006). This point leads us to consider the kinds of early intervention that infant mental health recommends.

COMPREHENSIVE INTERVENTIONS ARE NEEDED The goals of the infant mental health field are to reduce or eliminate suffering, to prevent adverse outcomes (school failure, delinquency, psychiatric morbidity, interpersonal isolation or conflicts, developmental delays and deviance), and to promote healthy outcomes by enhancing social competence and resilience. In order to accomplish these overarching goals, interventions must (1) enhance the ability of caregivers to nurture

young children effectively, (2) ensure that families in need of additional services can obtain them, and (3) increase the ability of nonfamilial caregivers to identify, address, and prevent social–­emotional problems in early childhood. The targets of intervention can be the child’s behavior, the parent’s behavior, or even the social context in which the child is developing, but the main focus of infant mental health is on strengthening or improving relationships as they impact the young child’s development and behavior. In Figure 1.1, we present a model of infant mental health services, based on a preventive health perspective (Mrazek & Haggerty, 1994; National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000) that represents an update of a previous conceptualization (Zeanah, Stafford, Nagle, et al., 2005). Mrazek and Haggerty (1994) distinguished between prevention and treatment services. Preventive interventions aim to prevent the initial onset of a disorder, decrease causal factors and increase protective factors, and/ or decrease the severity or duration of a disorder. Specifically, preventive interventions emphasize altering infant and parent behaviors and family functioning in order to preserve or restore infants to more normative developmental trajectories. For example, intrinsic infant risk factors such as difficult temperament cannot be prevented, but the adverse consequences of difficult temperament, such as the emergence of behavior problems, can be a focus of prevention efforts.

State-level Coordination Collaboration, Planning, Funding and Advocacy

Local-level Coordination Collaboration, Planning, Funding and Advocacy

Universal Intervention Universal Intervention

Selective Intervention Indicated Intervention Treatment Treatment

Treatment FIGURE 1.1.  Continuum of services at state and local levels.

1. The Scope of Infant Mental Health

Mrazek and Haggerty (1994) divided preventive interventions into three distinct levels. Universal preventions are considered desirable for everyone in an eligible population; professional assistance may or may not be needed. Selective preventions target members of a group who have high lifetime or high imminent risk for subsequent problems. Finally, indicated preventions target those who manifest minimal but detectable behavioral symptoms that may later become a full-blown disorder. Treatment of existing disorders adds a fourth level to this conceptualization (see Figure 1.1). Since infants and young children grow and develop within multiple contexts, biological, social, and relationship issues are often interrelated, and a continuum of services is needed. Infants and families may seek services at any point along the continuum or more than one point simultaneously. For example, a young child who requires treatment for trauma symptoms related to abuse or neglect may also need preventive health care; access to services for basic needs such as food, shelter, or clothing; or specialized developmental services such as speech and language or physical therapy. A child being seen for a well-child visit may be identified as having behavioral problems that warrant more intensive or specialized interventions. Thus, cross-­discipline and often cross­system collaboration is essential. In fact, in the United States, major policy initiatives in infant mental health are evident in most states, supported by federal and/or state governments (Rosenthal & Kaye, 2005).

Universal Prevention Some services are believed to be important for all infants and families, either for prevention or for health promotion purposes. These universal services seek to avert or prevent the onset of problems and/or seek to enhance social–­emotional health and development. In infant mental health, approaches include education regarding normal infant health and development, increasing knowledge about what constitutes healthy parent–­ infant relationships, and access or referral to additional services as needed. Although most universal services are aimed at individuals or families, in some cases, a community approach is needed to ensure that basic


needs such as safe housing, appropriate nutrition, and availability of health and human services are met even before other issues can be addressed. Early child care provides one example of a universal setting for addressing infant mental health. Scarr (1998) declared that there is an international consensus about what constitutes quality child care—­namely, warm, supportive interactions with adults in a safe, healthy, and stimulating environment. Considerable evidence supports her assertion. For example, the NICHD study of early child care is a prospective, longitudinal study designed to examine concurrent, long-term, and cumulative influences of variations in early child care experiences of young children. In this study, 1,364 healthy full-term newborns were recruited in 10 sites around the United States. Investigators examined what aspects of child care were important for promoting child development across a number of domains by assessing the child, the family, and the child care setting longitudinally; among child care variables, quality of care was the most important predictor of child outcomes. Quality of care is related to cognitive and language outcomes, as well as social and behavioral outcomes, in young children (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network, 2005). In other words, access to quality child care is a vitally important intervention for young children and should be the focus of sustained policy efforts to help achieve that goal. An important caveat was that characteristics of the parent–child relationship were better predictor of child outcomes than any combination of child care variables (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network, 2006). This does not mean that child care experiences are unimportant. Rather, it emphasizes the importance of all caregiving relationships for young children, with special primacy for parent–child relationships.

Selective Approaches to Intervention Some interventions are provided to families of young children who have been selected because they are “at risk” for poorer social and emotional outcomes. Some within the group may be functioning well; others



may be more obviously struggling. Interventions are presumably developed to address the risks inherent in the population, and typically, specific outcomes are monitored or measured. Selective interventions may be delivered in a variety of settings (e.g., health, mental health, educational, or social services), and there is a great range in the structure of such services, such as frequency or intensity, type of intervention provided, skills or behaviors that are targeted, and amount of monitoring or follow-up. A notable example of a selective prevention directed at improving maternal and infant outcomes, including the reduction of abuse and neglect in a high-risk, impoverished sample, is the work of Olds, Salder, and Kitzman (2007). They pioneered the Nurse–­Family Partnership (NFP), a nurse– home visitation intervention for impoverished first-time mothers. The preventive intervention begins prior to the 28th week of pregnancy and continues through the child’s second birthday. Though the NFP program uses attachment theory, social learning theory, and human ecology theory to ground the work, the program evolved out of a public health rather than mental health delivery approach. NFP has three major goals: to improve pregnancy health outcomes, to improve infant health and development outcomes, and to improve maternal life course development. Highly trained nurses use manualized guidelines to address issues related to personal health and health, quality of caregiving for the infant, maternal life course development, and social support. Special attention is given to the importance of establishing a trusting, consistent relationship between the nurse and the client, and the development of a safe, nurturing, and enriched parent–­ infant relationship. Through a series of randomized controlled trials, NFP has demonstrated significant impact across a variety of maternal and infant health and social outcomes, including reduction in child maltreatment, reductions in serious accidental injuries in children, delays in subsequent pregnancies, and increased maternal employment, as well as reductions in child and maternal criminal and antisocial behaviors as long as 15 years after program completion (Olds et al., 2007). Importantly, two independent groups have shown that the

program has yielded significant cost–­benefit advantages (Aos, Lieb, Mayfield, Miller, & Pennucci, 2004; Karoly, Kilburn, & Cannon, 2005).

Indicated Approaches to Preventive Intervention When subsyndromal problems are already evident in young children, indicated interventions may be applied. These interventions are aimed at preventing early manifestations of deviance from becoming clinical disorders in later development. Insecure and especially disorganized attachments between young children and their caregivers are known to be a risk factor for subsequent psychosocial adaptation. Because sensitive and responsive parenting is associated with secure attachment, van den Boom (1994) developed an intervention designed to enhance secure attachment in infants believed to be at risk because of temperamental irritability. She delivered three home visits to low-­income mothers and their 6- to 9-month-old temperamentally irritable infants. The intervention focused on increasing mothers’ sensitive responsiveness to their infants’ cues. Findings from a randomized trial of 100 infant–­mother pairs demonstrated that when infants were 9 months old, program mothers were significantly more responsive, stimulating, and visually attentive. At 12 and 18 months old, children whose mothers received the intervention were significantly more likely to be securely attached than control children (van den Boom, 1994, 1995). These findings led Juffer, Bakermans­K ranenburg, and van IJzendoorn (2007) to develop and evaluate a promising intervention called the Video-based Intervention to Promote Positive Parenting. This intervention is targeted to dyads at risk for the adverse consequences of insecure attachment and has been shown to reduce externalizing problems in young children.

Treatment of Established Disorders For young children who already have identifiable disorders, psychotherapeutic services aimed at alleviating suffering or repairing or remediating functioning are necessary. Most often these services are provided by mental health professionals trained in spe-

1. The Scope of Infant Mental Health

cific infant mental health assessment and intervention techniques. Treatment of already identified problems may be focused primarily on changing the infant (Benoit, Wang, & Zlotki, 2001), the parent and his or her behavior (McDonough, 2000), or the infant–­ parent relationship (Lieberman, Silverman, & Pawl, 2000). Stern (1995) has argued that these different forms of intervention may use different strategies and different ports of entry into the infant–­parent dyad, but all are concerned with changing the relationship as a way of changing infant behavior and experience. Treatment of established problems is concerned with current resolution of symptoms and distress but also with infants’ developmental trajectories. For these reasons, infant mental health treatment is concerned simultaneously with present and future adaptation of the child. An increasing number of treatments in infant mental health are supported empirically. Perhaps the best studied is child–­parent psychotherapy. Originally pioneered by Fraiberg and colleagues (Fraiberg et al., 1975), this treatment is a manualized intervention used primarily with high-risk families that have children less than 5 years of age. Child–­parent psychotherapy tries to establish links between the parents’ early childhood experiences and their current feelings, perceptions, and behaviors toward their infants and young children. The therapist acts as a translator of the emotional experience of parent and child, attending carefully to the parent’s stressful life circumstances and culturally derived values. A new generation of clinician researchers has more fully developed child–­parent psychotherapy, expanded its application to preschool-age children, and systematically studied its effectiveness (see Lieberman & Van Horn, Chapter 27, this volume); in fact, there are now five randomized controlled trials supporting its efficacy. Child–­parent psychotherapy has been shown to be effective at (1) reducing insecure attachment behaviors in toddlers of stressed immigrant families (Lieberman, Weston, & Pawl, 1991), (2) reducing signs of PTSD in children traumatized by marital violence (Lieberman et al., 2005; Lieberman, Ippen, & Van Horn, 2006), and (3) increasing secure attachments in infants of depressed mothers (Cicchetti, Toth, &


Rogosh, 1999; Toth, Rogosch, Manly, & Cicchetti, 2006) and in maltreated young children (Cicchetti, Rogosch, & Toth, 2006; Toth, Maughan, Manly, Spagnola, & Cicchetti, 2002).

Challenges of Infant Mental Health Interventions Preventive interventions and treatment efforts in infant mental health share several challenges. First, it is important to involve families of young children and to listen and incorporate their concerns into the planning and implementation of interventions. This requires the development of a working alliance between parents and intervener—that is, a shared commitment to work together in the best interest of the child. The relationship between the parent and the intervener often becomes a model for the respectful and empathic way parents learn to relate to their infant. Second, practitioners must recognize that personal, familial, ethnic, cultural, professional, and organizational values impact every aspect of interventions. These values create explicit and implicit lenses through which relationships are understood. Often, the situations faced by infants and young children evoke strong feelings in the professional. Recognizing and understanding one’s own value system as well as how professional perspectives impact one’s ability to understand the dyad are an ongoing challenge. Countertransference, including problems with boundaries, value judgments, and rescue fantasies, can cloud objectivity and undermine the potential for the intervention to succeed. Adequate provider training and supervision are viewed as essential precursors to developing effective interventions (see Hinshaw-­Fuselier, Zeanah, & Larrieu, Chapter 33, this volume). A third related challenge, particularly for professionals who have been taught to focus on individuals, is keeping the focus on the infant–­parent relationship. The professional must pay attention not only to the behavioral interactions within the dyad, but also must appreciate the parent’s emotional experience of the young child, and the young child’s experience of the parent. Recognition of each of these perspectives requires a paradigm shift for most early childhood professionals,



and it requires significant training in order to fully understand and to integrate these perspectives into clinical work. Finally, though the evidence base in infant mental health is growing, ongoing research into preventive interventions and treatments is needed. It is important to identify the components of the intervention, such as (1) the targeted recipient; (2) methods of intervention; (3) frequency, intensity, and length of services; (4) location of service delivery; and (5) type of service provider. Then it is important to link these components with anticipated, measurable outcomes (Karoly et al., 2005). Explicating these components and applying sound research methodology will enhance the evidence base and eventually will allow us in the field to identify critical elements and combination strategies that make a difference within and possibly across programs. For example, Olds and colleagues (2002) showed that nurses outperformed paraprofessionals in terms of outcomes achieved, keeping other characteristics of the NFP model constant. This finding helps justify the extra cost of using nurses to deliver services in this intervention. There is a particular need for research that focuses on the impact of sequential preventive interventions (Mrazek & Haggerty, 1994). This area has hardly been studied at all, no doubt partly because it poses significant fiscal and logistical challenges. In developing more refined questions in intervention research, clinicians need to work closely with researchers. Ideally, the latest research findings inform clinical practice, and clinical practice informs research designs by introducing promising approaches. The ultimate goal is for clinicians to be able to select an intervention that is best suited to address an individual child’s particular problems and circumstances. Policies ensuring that families have access to individualized services will become increasingly important as our ability to match children and families with specific interventions improves.

CONCLUSIONS The field of infant mental health emphasizes the importance of caregiving relationships as having major effects on the young child’s social and emotional experience. Healthy

caregiving relationships, which are embedded within multiple social and cultural contexts, promote social competence in young children, and social competence is associated with adaptive behavioral, emotional, and cognitive outcomes. The scope of infant mental health includes clinical, research, and policy efforts and encompasses the theoretical perspectives and knowledge base of multiple professional disciplines. The complexity of the problems of infants and toddlers must be matched by the comprehensiveness of our efforts to minimize their suffering and enhance their competence. References American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Task Force on Research Diagnostic Criteria: Infancy and Preschool. (2003). Research diagnostic criteria for infants and preschool children: The process and empirical support. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 42, 1504–1512. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author. Angold, A., & Egger, H. L. (2007). Preschool psychopathology: Lessons for the lifespan. Journal of Child Psychology, Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 48, 961–966. Aos, S., Lieb, R., Mayfield, J., Miller, M., & Pennucci, A. (2004). Benefits and costs of prevention and early intervention programs for youth. Olympia, WA: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Belden, A. C., Thomson, N. R., & Luby, J. L. (2008). Temper tantrums in healthy versus depressed and disruptive preschoolers: Defining tantrum behaviors associated with clinical problems. Journal of Pediatrics, 152, 117–122. Bell, R. Q. (1968). A reinterpretation of the direction of effects in studies of socialization. Psychological Review, 75, 81–95. Benoit, D., Wang, E. L., & Zlotki, S. H. (2000). Discontinuation of enterostomy tube feeding by behavioral treatment in early childhood: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Pediatrics, 137, 498–503. Bergman, K., Sarkar, P., Glover, V., & O’Connor, T. G. (2008). Quality of child–­parent attachment moderates the impact of antenatal stress on child fearfulness. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49, 1089–1098. Carta, J. J., Atwater, J. B., Greenwood, C. R., McConnell, S. R., McEvoy, M. A., & Williams, R. (2001). Effects of cumulative prenatal substance exposure and environmental risks on children’s developmental trajectories. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 30, 327–337.

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early school success issue: Brief No. 1. Helping the most vulnerable infants, toddlers, and their families. New York: National Center for Children in Poverty. Knudsen, E. I. (2004). Sensitive periods in the development of the brain and behavior. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 16, 1412–1425. Knudsen, E. I., Heckman, J. J., Cameron, J. L., & Shonkoff, J. P. (2006). Economic, neurobiological, and behavioral perspectives on building America’s future workforce. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103, 10155– 10162. Lewis, M. (2000). The cultural context of infant mental health: The developmental niche of infant–­caregiver relationships. In C. H. Zeanah, Jr. (Ed.), Handbook of infant mental health (2nd ed., pp. 91–107). New York: Guilford Press. Lieberman, A. F., Ippen, C. G., & Van Horn, P. (2006). Child–­parent psychotherapy: 6-month follow-up of a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 45, 913–917. Lieberman, A. F., Silverman, R., & Pawl, J. (2000). Infant–­parent psychotherapy. In C. H. Zeanah (Ed.), Handbook of infant mental health (2nd ed., pp. 472–484). New York: Guilford Press. Lieberman, A. F., Van Horn, P., & Ippen, C. G. (2005). Toward evidence-based treatment: Child–­parent psychotherapy with preschoolers exposed to marital violence. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 44, 1241–1248. Lieberman, A. F., Weston, D., & Pawl, J. H. (1991). Preventive intervention and outcome with anxiously attached dyads. Child Development, 62, 199–209. Masten, A. S., & Coatesworth, D. J. (1998). The development of competence in favorable and unfavorable environments: Lessons from research on successful children. American Psychologist, 53, 205–220. McCarton, C. M., Brooks-Gunn, J., Wallace, I. F., Bauer, C. R., Bennett, F. C., Bernbaum, J. C., et al. (1997). Results at age 8 years of early intervention for low-birth-­weight premature infants: The infant health and development program. Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey, 52, 341–342. McDonough, S. (2000). Interaction guidance: An approach for difficult to engage families. In C. H. Zeanah (Ed.), Handbook of infant mental health (2nd ed., pp. 485–493). New York: Guilford Press. Meiser-­Stedman, R., Smith, P., Glucksman, E., Yule, W., & Dalgleish, T. (2008). The posttraumatic stress disorder diagnosis in preschool- and elementary school-age children exposed to motor vehicle accidents. American Journal of Psychiatry, 165, 1326–1337. Middlebrooks, J. S., & Audage, N. C. (2008). The effects of childhood stress on health across the lifespan. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

Minuchin, P. (1988). Relationships within the family: A systems perspective on development. In R. A. Hinde & J. Stevenson-Hinde (Eds.), Relationships within families: Mutual influences (pp. 7–26). New York: Oxford University Press. Mrazek, P. B., & Haggerty, R. J. (1994). Reducing risks for mental disorders: Frontiers for preventive intervention research. Committee on Prevention of Mental Disorders, Institute of Medicine. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network. (2004). Trajectories of physical aggression from toddlerhood to middle childhood: Predictors, correlates and outcomes. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development (Serial No. 278), 69, 1–144. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network. (2005). Child care and child development. New York: Guilford Press. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network. (2006). Child care effect sizes for the NICHD study of early child care and youth development. American Psychologist, 61, 99–116. National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development. Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development (J. P. Shonkoff and D. A. Phillips, Eds.). Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Nelson, C. A., Zeanah, C. H., Fox, N. A., Marshall, P. J., Smyke, A. T., & Guthrie, D. (2007). Cognitive recovery in socially deprived young children: The Bucharest Early Intervention Project. Science, 318, 1937–1940. Olds, D. L., Robinson, J., O’Brien, R., Luckey, D. W., Pettitt, L. M., Henderson, C. R., et al. (2002). Home visiting by paraprofessionals and by nurses: A randomized, controlled trial. Pediatrics, 110, 486–496. Olds, D. L., Sadler, L., & Kitzman, H. (2007). Programs for parents of infants and toddlers: Recent evidence from randomized trials. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 48, 355–391. Pine, D. S., Costello, E. J., Dahl, R., James, R., Leckman, J., Leibenluft, E., et al. (2008, March). Increasing the developmental focus in DSM-V: Broad issues and specific potential applications in anxiety. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychopathological Association, New York City. Robinson, M., Oddy, W. H., Li, J., Kendall, G. E., de Klerk, N. H., Silburn, S. R., et al. (2008). Pre- and postnatal influences on preschool mental health: A large-scale cohort study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49, 1118– 1128. Rosenthal, J., & Kaye, N. (2005). State approaches to promoting young children’s healthy mental development: A survey of Medicaid, maternal and child health, and mental health agen-

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cies. Portland, ME: National Academy for State Health Policy. Rutter, M. (2000). Resilience reconsidered: Conceptual considerations, empirical findings, and policy implications. In J. Shonkoff & S. Meisels (Eds.), Handbook of early childhood intervention (2nd ed., pp.  651–682). New York: Cambridge University Press. Sameroff, A. J., Bartko, W. T., Baldwin, A., Baldwin, C., & Seifer, R. (1998). Family and social influences on the development of competence. In M. Lewis & C. Feiring (Eds.), Families, risk and competence (pp.  161–186). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Sameroff, A. J., & Fiese, B. (2000). Models of development and developmental risk. In C. H. Zeanah (Ed.), Handbook of infant mental health (2nd ed., pp. 3–19). New York: Guilford Press. Scarr, S. (1998). American child care today. American Psychologist, 53, 95–108. Scheeringa, M. S., & Zeanah, C. H., Jr. (2001). A relationship perspective on PTSD in infancy. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 14, 799–815. Scheeringa, M. S., Zeanah, C. H., Jr., Myers, L., & Putnam, F. W. (2005). Predictive validity in a prospective follow-up of PTSD in preschool children. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 44, 899–906. Sroufe, L. A. (1989). Relationships, self and individual adaptation. In A. J. Sameroff & R. N. Emde (Eds.), Relationship disturbances in early childhood (pp. 70–94). New York: Basic Books. Sroufe, L. A. (1997). Psychopathology as an outcome of development. Development and Psychopathology, 9, 251–268. Sroufe, L. A., & Rutter, M. (2000). Developmental psychopathology: Concepts and challenges. Development and Psychopathology, 12, 265–296. Steele, H., Steele, M., & Fonagy, P. (1996). Associations among attachment classifications of mothers, fathers, and their infants. Child Development, 67, 541–555. Stern, D. N. (1995). The motherhood constellation. New York: Basic Books. Toth, S. L., Maughan, A., Manly, J. T., Spagnola, M., & Cicchetti, D. (2002). The relative efficacy of two interventions in altering maltreated preschool children’s representational models: Implications for attachment theory. Development and Psychopathology, 14, 877–908. Toth, S. L., Rogosch, F. A., Manly, J. T., & Cicchetti, D. (2006). The efficacy of toddler–­parent psychotherapy to reorganize attachment in the young offspring of mothers with major depres-


sive disorder: A randomized preventive trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 1006–1016. van den Boom, D. C. (1994). The influence of temperament and mothering on attachment and exploration: An experimental manipulation of sensitive responsiveness among lower-class mothers with irritable infants. Child Development, 65, 1457–1477. van den Boom, D. C. (1995). Do first-year intervention effects endure?: Follow-up during toddlerhood of a sample of Dutch irritable infants. Child Development, 66, 1798–1816. Werner, E. E., & Smith, R. S. (2001). Journeys from childhood to midlife: Risk, resilience, and recovery. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Zeanah, C. H., Jr. (1998). Reflections on the strengths perspective. The Signal, 6, 12–13. Zeanah, C. H., Jr., Bakshi, S., Boris, N. W., & Lieberman, A. (2000). Disorders of attachment. In J. Osofsky & H. Fitzgerald (Eds.), WAIMH handbook of infant mental health (pp. 93–122). New York: Wiley. Zeanah, C. H., Boris, N., & Scheeringa, M. (1997). Psychopathology in infancy. Journal of Child Psychology, Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 38, 81–99. Zeanah, C. H., Jr., & Zeanah, P. D. (2001). Towards a definition of infant mental health. Zero to Three, 22, 13–20. Zeanah, P. D., Gleason, M. M., & Zeanah, C. H., Jr. (2008). Infant mental health. In M. M. Haith & J. B. Benson (Eds.), Encyclopedia of infant and early childhood development (pp. 301–311). New York: Elsevier. Zeanah, P. D., Stafford, B., Nagle, G., & Rice, T. (2005). Addressing social emotional development and infant mental health. In Building early childhood comprehensive systems series (Vol. 12). Los Angeles: National Center for Infant and Early Childhood Health Policy. Zeanah, P. D., Stafford, B., & Zeanah, C. H., Jr. (2005). Clinical interventions in infant mental health: A selective review. In Building state early childhood comprehensive systems series (Vol. 13). Los Angeles: National Center for Infant and Early Childhood Health Policy. Zero to Three. (2001). Definition of infant mental health. Washington, DC: Zero to Three Infant Mental Health Steering Committee. Zero to Three. (2005). Diagnostic classification of mental health and developmental disorders of infancy and early childhood, revised (DC:0– 3R). Washington, DC: Zero to Three Press.

Chapter 2

The Psychology and Psychopathology of Pregnancy Reorganization and Transformation Arietta Slade Lisa J. Cohen Lois S. Sadler Maia Miller


regnancy is no ordinary time in the life of a woman. At no other point in her life will so much about her change in such a brief period, or will the nature and quality of her adaptations have such far-­reaching implications for her own and her child’s physical and psychological health. On the one hand, this time of enormous transition, transformation, and reorganization is one of hope and possibility and on the other, it is a time of crisis and potential disorganization. “Good-­enough” negotiation of the developmental crisis of pregnancy is crucial to the mental health of both mother and child. Pregnancy is inherently disruptive even when it is planned and wanted. The reasons are many: For one, there are the enormous physical, hormonal, neurochemical, and neurobiological shifts that occur within the body and the brain during this period; for another, there is the renegotiation of identity and the activation of internal representations of self and other, of attachment and caregiving, that are part and parcel of impending parenthood. The degree to which the mother-to-be is able to manage and integrate these developmental shifts is related to a number of internal and external factors. One is her individual psychology. She brings to pregnancy an internal life, a

particular and unique way of experiencing and organizing her emotional world and her sense of herself and others. Her internal life is shaped, but not determined, by childhood and other formative relationships, as well as by her prior experiences of trauma and loss. By the same token, pregnancy occurs within the context of physical health as well as biological and genetic strengths and vulnerabilities. It also occurs within a network of relationships to the father of her baby, to her family, her community, and her culture, and within the profound matrix of her age and socioeconomic status. It is the unique mix of these variables that brings about the emotional upheaval that is so normal and expectable in pregnancy. Although emotional upheaval is normative, the vulnerability of this period cannot be overstated, both from the standpoint of the mother’s as well as the unborn infant’s mental health. For women whose psychological functioning is vulnerable, the emotional crisis of pregnancy may set in motion patterns that have long-term consequences for mother, baby, and the larger family. Among those most at risk during pregnancy are women with prior psychiatric difficulties, as well as those with histories of trauma, abuse, and loss (including, but not limited to, preg22

2. The Psychology and Psychopathology of Pregnancy

nancy loss). Equally if not more vulnerable are teenage mothers, who are usually coping not only with the stress of becoming a parent in the midst of adolescence but with the additional stresses of poverty, inadequate social support, and histories of disrupted attachment and trauma. These are the circumstances most likely to bring pregnant women to the attention of clinicians, and it is these women who may well require immediate and sometimes long-term intervention to help them adjust both to the upheaval of pregnancy and the arrival of a baby. In the following sections we attempt to give an overview of the various, variable, and complex factors that lead to mental health concerns during the perinatal and postnatal periods. We first consider the physical, biological, hormonal, and neural aspects of pregnancy. Next we address the emotional aspects of pregnancy, particularly as these lay the groundwork for the mother’s developing connection to, and relationship with, her unborn child. We then discuss the various relational, familial, and environmental factors that impact a woman’s psychological adaptation to pregnancy and parenthood. Finally, we examine the role of intervention in addressing psychopathology during pregnancy and in preparing at-risk mothers for motherhood.

DEVELOPMENTAL OVERVIEW OF PREGNANCY Becoming Pregnant Pregnancy begins with conception, which for the large majority of women who become pregnant, occurs as the result of sexual intercourse during the fertile phase in the menstrual cycle. The moment of conception sets in motion a range of physical, biological, and neural changes that can be reliably detected within days in both urine and blood samples. The biological aspects of conception are, however, quite distinct from their psychological aspects. Women become pregnant in a vast array of different personal, relational, and social circumstances, all of which contribute, in both small and large ways, to the psychological experience of pregnancy and to their acceptance of the pregnancy. Whether a woman had wished to become pregnant, has been easily able to


conceive and carry a pregnancy to term, has a stable relationship with the father of the baby, is psychologically ready to be a parent within the context of her own society and culture, will—along with many other factors—­establish the context for the beginning of a new and, for the mother, lifelong relationship. Unintended pregnancy usually brings with it considerable stress, and can itself be a threat to the mother’s mental health. In addition, the inability to accept the pregnancy can affect the mother’s experience of parenting as well as the child’s later attachment status (Ispa, Huth-Bocks, Sable, Porter, & Csizmadia, 2007).

The Sequence of the Trimesters The greatest amount of fetal development takes place in the first trimester (12 weeks) of pregnancy, in which undifferentiated cells are transformed into articulated tissues and organs. The fetus is most vulnerable to toxic influences during this first trimester; for this reason mothers in` most developing countries are advised to stop smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee and alcohol when their pregnancy is confirmed. The hormonal surges that allow the pregnancy to take hold are responsible for both morning sickness as well as irritability and mood changes. The vulnerability of this period is highlighted by the fact that one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage by 10–12 weeks’ gestation. A woman may not realize that she is pregnant until she misses her period, but numerous women feel some changes in their bodies within the first few weeks of pregnancy. Nevertheless, while her body has certainly begun to change, and she may already be making changes in her diet and activity level, the fetus is still largely an abstraction. Impending motherhood does not typically feel as real or permanent as it will in later trimesters (Leifer, 1980). That said, recent developments in vaginal ultrasonography allow a view of the fetus as early as 10 weeks. This technology allows women who have routine access to hospital-based medical care to view their infant before it is born—which was impossible until only a few decades ago. This is often experienced as intensely exciting—­certainly making the baby feel more real—and often deepening the mother’s (and father’s) feelings of con-



nection to the fetus (McKinney, Tuber, & Downey, 1996). In the second trimester fetal growth is more observable, and the baby begins to feel more real to many women. With hormones stabilizing, morning sickness and irritability generally are less severe than in the preceding trimester. The abdomen has expanded enough for the pregnancy to “show,” which is a stage that can be intensely conflicted for women, especially those with body image problems or prepregnancy eating disorders (Huganir, 1990; Rocco et al., 2005). Most important, at this point (4–5 months), women begin to feel the baby move, although undetected motion has been occurring since 7–8 weeks. Known as “quickening,” this is one of the most psychologically significant moments in a woman’s pregnancy. Many psychoanalytic theorists have noted that as the pregnant woman’s body grows, and as the baby becomes easier to imagine, felt through kicks and seen in the ultrasound, her psychological orientation turns inward. Her emotional investment is drawn away from the outside world and refocused inward toward her baby and the transformations taking place inside her (Bibring, Dwyer, Huntington, & Valenstein, 1961; Leifer, 1980). At this point, the psychological transition accelerates; not only is she becoming a mother physically, she is now evolving into one psychologically. In the third trimester the baby is largely formed, and it is time for the fetus to reach its full neonatal size. The woman gains the most weight at this point, generally up to 35 pounds. Her mobility is considerably restricted, and her sheer body mass can lead to notable discomfort, especially in the final month. During the last weeks of her pregnancy, the woman begins to psychologically prepare for childbirth and for the arrival of the baby into the world; this is likely related to the activation of oxytocin neurons immediately prior to delivery (Leckman et al., 2004). Winnicott (1956) termed this the beginning of the period of “primary maternal preoccupation,” when women begin “nesting” in a variety of ways; internally and externally, they are more and more turned to the baby’s arrival and to the enormous changes this will bring (Leifer, 1980; Lester & Notman, 1986; Pines, 1972).

Childbirth The culmination of pregnancy is, of course, childbirth. Women anticipate labor and childbirth with intense and ambivalent emotions. Labor heralds the long-­awaited arrival of their child and the cessation of their now quite cumbersome pregnancy. Yet childbirth is also likely to be a physically painful and difficult experience. In labor, a woman is inescapably confronted with the limits of her bodily control and, ultimately, with her own mortality. These realities can make labor an intensely frightening time for women, and most cultures have established practices for lessening the fear that accompanies labor. These include, for instance, childbirth companions or “doulas” who remain with the woman throughout her entire labor. The presence of supportive companions has been associated with a range of positive obstetrical and mother–­infant outcomes (Kennell, Klaus, McGrath, Robertson, & Hinkley, 1991). Mothers, grandmothers, and other female relatives serve the same function in other cultures. In Western cultures fathers are often encouraged to attend the childbirth. Many studies confirm the commonsense notion that women who feel informed about, and in some control of, the childbirth process will be less distressed and emotionally resilient during and after birth (Green, Coupland, & Kitzinger, 1990). For mothers with histories of sexual or physical abuse, childbirth can be intensely retraumatizing; for these women, interventions that allow them some control over the powerlessness that is inherent in childbirth can be crucial (Seng, 2002; Simkin, 1992).

The Neurobiology of Pregnancy Recent research has begun to investigate the neurobiology of pregnancy, which is quite complex. On the one hand, a variety of hormonal and other neurochemical changes allow the pregnancy to proceed and the fetus to develop. They are also responsible, at many levels, for the mood fluctuations and upheaval that are intrinsic to pregnancy. Other hormones, particularly oxytocin, play a crucial role in triggering maternal behavior, both immediately before and after birth, and set in motion the neural circuitry that promotes attachment in both mother and

2. The Psychology and Psychopathology of Pregnancy

baby (Feldman, Weller, Zagoory-­Sharon, & Levine, 2007; Leckman et al., 2004; Nelson & Panksepp, 1998). Feldman and her colleagues (2007) report that higher plasma oxytocin levels during the first trimester of pregnancy were associated with more indices of positive attachment in the mother– child interaction at 4 months. In addition, mothers who had higher levels of oxytocin across the pregnancy and the postpartum month reported more behaviors indicative of their forming an exclusive attachment to the baby and were more likely to report being preoccupied with the baby’s safety and future. Feldman et al. also suggested that oxytocin may interact with cortisol and other stress hormones in such a way as to reduce anxiety, increase calmness, and intensify “the incentive value of the attachment target” (Feldman et al., 2007, p. 969). And as is discussed later, hormones are further implicated in the development of psychiatric disturbances during the antenatal and postnatal periods.

PSYCHOLOGICAL PROCESSES IN PREGNANCY Affective Upheaval in Pregnancy Unsurprisingly, given the external and internal demands of impending parenthood, emotional upheaval and intermittent psychic distress is not at all unusual in pregnancy (Bibring et al., 1961; Leifer, 1980; Trad, 1990). Bibring, who was one of the first psychoanalytic writers to study pregnancy, noted that affective instability often typifies even the most “normal” and stable women during pregnancy. The majority of the pregnant women she and her colleagues evaluated during pregnancy actually looked quite disturbed and unstable. Bibring’s observations—which have been validated time and again over the ensuing decades (DiPietro, Novak, Costigan, Atella, & Reusing, 2006; Moses-Kolko & Feintuch, 2002)—are particularly interesting because the cultural stereotype of a pregnant woman suggests that her primary emotional state is uninterrupted bliss and serenity (Leifer, 1980). While these states unquestionably occur in most pregnancies, they do not usually typify the experience.


Internal Reorganization: Object Relations, Attachment, and Representations A crucial level of reorganization occurs at an internal, psychological level. Any developmental crisis results in the activation of internalized representations of the self and of the other. For the pregnant woman, becoming a mother invariably activates her internalized object relationship with her own mother. The more complex her relationship with her mother and other important caregivers, the more fraught an experience this is likely to be (Pines, 1972). Ideally, one of the ways that a mother comes to feel like a mother is by identifying with her own mother. As Bibring and her colleagues (1961) noted, this process occurs gradually, as a woman reworks her internalized and actual relationship with her own mother over the course of the pregnancy. Often this reworking will allow a woman to see her mother in a more positive light, and to develop a vision of herself as a mother. She and her mother are mothers together, and she is less and less a child dependent on, or in conflict with, her mother. Needless to say, when pregnancy awakens particularly negative object and self representations, the development of maternal identity will be conflicted. Indeed, as has been amply documented in the clinical literature on pregnancy, there are many women for whom the anxiety, ambivalence, and conflict evoked by pregnancy are so powerful that such reworking is difficult, if not impossible (Leifer, 1980; Lester & Notman, 1986; Pines, 1972; Trad, 1990). Nevertheless, resolving and integrating such complex identifications and internalized object representations is central to a woman’s preparing herself both for motherhood and for her relationship with her child. When successful, such reworking offers an important opportunity for repair and resolution (Benedek, 1970). When unsuccessful, it lays the groundwork for a disrupted mother– child relationship, with grave consequences for both mother and child. The establishment of a maternal identity also involves renegotiating other aspects of her sense of self. In addition to being a woman, a daughter, a wife/partner, and— in many instances—a working person, she is now also becoming a mother. Or, she is becoming a mother to a new child, shift-



ing prior attachments to make room for the new. The tasks inherent in developing this new identity—which continues to develop throughout her children’s lives—are enormous. Regression, conflict, anxiety, transient depression, emotional lability and ambivalence are natural consequences of these shifts, which are so fundamental to her sense of herself. Indeed, Trad (1990) has suggested that these shifts cannot help but trigger ambivalence, the healthy expression of which is crucial to a successful adaptation to pregnancy. Intertwined with the task of reworking early relationships is the task of developing a feeling of connection to the child while at the same time acknowledging its separateness (Condon & Corklindale, 1997; Pines, 1972). During pregnancy, the baby is both part of her and separate from her at the same time. On the one hand, particularly during the latter stages of pregnancy and the early postnatal period, the woman must, in some very real sense, abandon herself to her child. Winnicott (1956) called this state “primary maternal preoccupation,” referring to mother’s process of becoming utterly preoccupied and identified with her baby, with his or her needs, rhythms, and very being. In this state, she and the baby are—­profoundly—­ together as one. At the same time, the baby’s separateness, separate within her own body, must remain real to her. She must imagine and hold in mind his or her autonomy, distinct from her fantasies, her desires, her projections, and her attributions. She must also feel secure in her own ability to retain an autonomous identity, even while surrendering her sense of self to her baby. In the same way that pregnancy activates internalized object relations, so does it activate the attachment system and its representations. From Bowlby’s (1988) perspective, the caregiving system—like the attachment behavioral system—is a primary motivational system that is activated under certain priming conditions. Specifically, Bowlby suggested that the infant’s biological predisposition to become attached occurs within the context of an equally strong biological inclination in the parent, namely, the predisposition to provide care for his or her young. This caregiving system, which is activated over the course of pregnancy, is analogous to the attachment behavioral system in children

(Solomon & George, 1996) and necessarily competes with other motivational systems, including those that govern pair bonding, sexual activity, and the like. Whereas attachment theorists reserve the term attachment to describe the child’s attachment to one stronger and wiser (i.e., the parent), many use the terms maternal– fetal attachment or prenatal attachment to describe both behavioral and representational components of the mother’s developing connection to the child (see Cannella, 2005, and Doan & Zimerman, 2003, for reviews). The degree to which a woman feels attached and connected to her unborn child, or exhibits behaviors consistent with a developing attachment to the baby, has been linked to a number of crucial parent and child outcomes, among them pre- and postbirth parental behavior (Condon & Corklindale, 1997), mothers’ experience of their babies after birth (Leifer, 1980), and to the quality of mothers’ involvement with their babies after birth (Siddiqui & Hägglöff, 2000). Various authors (Bennett, Litz, Lee, & Maguen, 2005; Doan & Zimerman, 2003) have noted that women differ greatly in when they begin to experience feelings of connection and attachment to the unborn child. For some, the feelings may begin long before a woman is even pregnant; for some, they begin early in pregnancy; whereas for others they are slow to develop. These feelings may also vary in intensity from child to child. Representations of the baby undoubtedly begin forming even before a woman becomes pregnant, for it is likely that she has, at some if not many points in her life, fantasized about having children and about being a mother. Although such representations are fairly diffuse in early pregnancy, by the second trimester they have become increasingly specific. Mothers describe the fetus as “busy,” “demanding,” “willful,” “won’t stop bothering me,” “makes me sick all the time,” and “making me feel good about life.” A woman’s representations of herself as a mother are likewise developing: “I’ll be a good mother” . . . “a controlling mother” . . . “I’m not going to be a pullout-all-the-stops mother because I love my work.” In pregnancy, there is less a known baby than an imagined baby. Thus, these representations are truly creations, based

2. The Psychology and Psychopathology of Pregnancy

less on reality than on an amalgam of the mother’s projections, hopes, dreams, attributions, and unconscious fantasies. By the third trimester differences among women in their capacity to imagine the baby and to imagine themselves as mothers can be quite striking. These are also fairly consolidated and stable. Both the content and structure of such representations speak volumes about the success of the woman’s adaptation to the tasks of pregnancy: To what degree can she imagine her baby, both as part of and apart from herself? To what degree can she imagine herself as a mother? And to what extent are these representations coherent, organized, and balanced, or contradictory, disorganized, and negatively tinged? Benoit, Parker, and Zeanah (1995) evaluated the quality of maternal representations of the child from pregnancy to 1 year. They found not only that representations were stable from pregnancy to 1 year after birth, but also that women with balanced (as opposed to disengaged or distorted) representations in pregnancy were more likely to have secure infants at 1 year. More recently, Theran, Levendosky, Bogat, and Huth-Bocks (2005) studied the stability of parental representations of the child over time. When representations were classified as either balanced or nonbalanced, 71% of the sample was stable over time, with stability being more typical of women with balanced representations. Income level, single parenthood, history of abuse, and depressive symptomatology predicted change. A number of researchers have linked the quality of a woman’s attachment to her own parents to the maternal–fetal attachment as well as to the quality of maternal representations of the unborn child. A woman’s attachment security predicts maternal–fetal attachment (Siddiqui, Hägglöf, & Eisemann, 2000) as well as the quality of prenatal representations of the baby and of self as mother (Benoit et al., 1997; Frank, Tuber, Slade, & Garrod, 1994; Huth-Bocks, Levendosky, Bogat, & von Eye, 2004; Mikulincer & Florian, 1999; Slade & Cohen, 1996; Slade et al., 1995; Zeanah, Dailey, Rosenblatt, & Saller, 1995). Unsurprisingly, both maternal–fetal attachment and the quality of prenatal representations have been linked to later infant security (Benoit et al., 1997; Hucks-Both, et al., 2004).


Although the terms “reflective functioning” and “mentalization” have typically been reserved to describe the adult’s capacity to reflect upon the mental states of others in actual relationships (Fonagy, Gergely, Jurist, & Target, 2002; Slade, 2005), they also apply to many mothers who begin to imagine their babies as having intentions, feelings, and desires during the pregnancy. Indeed, reflective functioning plays a particular and important role in pregnancy, because the mother is necessarily holding two minds in her mind: her own changing sense of self alongside her fluctuating and intense affects and the reality of her baby, both part of and apart from her. Reflective functioning allows the mother to imagine the baby as having a mind of his or her own, coherent and knowable, both in her mind and after he or she is born. It also allows the mother to retain a sense of herself as coherent and knowable in the face of the turmoil of pregnancy.

External Reorganization Most, if not all, of a woman’s relationships will be changed by her becoming a mother. Her relationship with her partner must expand to include a third (or fourth or fifth, etc.) person, with competing needs and desires. Her relationship with her own mother will change; she is no longer just a daughter, but a daughter who is also joining the ranks of motherhood. And her relationship to her other children and to her extended network of family and colleagues changes as well. Naturally, because of the increased physiological and emotional demands of pregnancy, women grow more dependent on others during this time. They need more support from the people in their world—­husband, family, friends, and those whose job it is to help them bring the pregnancy to a healthy end. Extended families often grow more cohesive around childbirth; even strangers are more likely to engage with pregnant women, sometimes putting their hands on women’s stomachs or giving unsolicited advice about child care. Pregnancy dramatically changes the dynamics of the nuclear family, the parental marriage in particular, and the availability of support—from husbands and other extended social networks—has been found intrinsic to a healthy adaptation to



pregnancy (Condon & Corklindale, 1997; Leifer, 1980). The woman’s experience of pregnancy is strongly affected by her social context, by the relationship with her partner, her children, and her own family of origin, and by the culture in which she lives.

THE PREGNANT FATHER For the father as well, pregnancy is a time of psychological preparation. Although there has been significantly less research addressing paternal development during pregnancy, several studies document the profound transformation men also must undergo and the active part some men take in this process (Gage & Kirk, 2002; Habib & Lancaster, 2006). During pregnancy, fathers must develop a representation of the baby and an attachment to a child that they have not yet met. As men do not directly undergo the same immense physiological changes that women do, this can be a daunting task at times, and it may be hard for some fathers to experience the baby as real, although the changes in their partners feel very real, as do the increasing responsibilities they face as parents-to-be. Interestingly, in one study the number of ultrasound visits was the strongest predictor of paternal–fetal attachment (Gerner, 2006). Other studies found that fathers who consciously chose to become fathers (Peterson & Jenni, 2003) and who perceived a central role in their identity as fathers (Habib & Lancaster, 2006) were most emotionally invested in the pregnancy. A father’s representation of his own father also affects his growing attachment to his new baby. In a 2004 study, Beaton, Doherty, and Reuter (2003) noted that expectant fathers who were either very close to their own parents during childhood or very distant from them had more positive attitudes about paternal involvement. Thus, although security of attachment in childhood facilitates a new father’s ability to create a secure and loving attachment to his own unborn baby, the reworking of insecure attachment representations can also play a critical role in paternal– fetal attachment. The marital relationship also undergoes profound changes during pregnancy. The dyad becomes a triad, and it will be at least two decades before any decision can be

made without considering the needs of their child. Pregnancy marks a profound commitment to the marriage; father and mother remain inextricably connected to each other the rest of their lives. Thus pregnancy has the potential to profoundly deepen the intimate bond of marriage. Not surprisingly, pregnancy also brings numerous stresses to the marriage; the higher the degree of marital satisfaction, the more the husband feels a part of pregnancy and childrearing. Thus, although involvement with children is a life­enhancing and life-­transforming experience for most men, the father–child relationship is highly influenced by the marital relationship, probably to a much greater degree than is the mother–child relationship. A father also may feel intense and ambivalent feelings about the changes his wife or partner is undergoing. The father may enjoy the woman’s bodily changes, feeling excited and awed by the life growing inside of her. Conversely, he may have some difficulty seeing his sexual partner’s body in so clearly a maternal form. Some men feel intense anxiety about their wife and child’s physical health (“That big head is supposed to come out of where?”). Moreover, a man may feel abandoned by his wife, who is now devoting enormous energy and attention to her pregnancy. Many men also feel excluded from a central role in the parenting process, relegated by both friends and family to the ancillary role of breadwinner and helpmate, as if pregnancy were an exclusive club to which only women can belong. Such a focus on fathers’ emotional experience illuminates a largely neglected dynamic of women’s experience of pregnancy—that although women’s need for social support is heightened during pregnancy, many women may be reluctant to share the power and emotional significance of parenthood with their mates. However, for men to become more active fathers, women have to sacrifice some of the control they have traditionally enjoyed in childrearing. A fascinating cross-­cultural phenomenon, termed couvade, speaks to how some men symbolically process the psychological challenges facing expectant fathers (Klein, 1991). “Couvade” refers to the manifestation or endorsement in a man of somatic symptoms similar to those of his pregnant partner. By somatically identifying with the pregnant

2. The Psychology and Psychopathology of Pregnancy

mother, the expectant father simultaneously draws closer to his wife, demands recognition of his role in the pregnancy process, and psychologically prepares himself for the child’s birth. Some authors have suggested biological influences on this phenomenon, and there is evidence that males and females undergo similar hormonal changes—in quality if not quantity—­during pregnancy. Specifically, both males and females demonstrate increased prolactin and estradiol and decreased testosterone at specific points in the pre- and perinatal periods (Storey, Walsh, Quinton, & Wynne-­Edwards, 2000; Zeigler & Snowdon, 2000). It is worth noting that many women undergo pregnancy without the support of the father of the baby; indeed, this is a time—­ particularly in the case of teenage or unwanted pregnancies—when many men disappear (C. H. Zeanah, Jr., personal communication, February 2, 2008). Clearly, the absence of a father, as supportive partner and as coparent, will affect the woman’s experience of pregnancy and childbearing in a number of ways. Many women involve female family members in guiding them through pregnancy and childbirth in these situations. Many others, especially in cultural groups where father absence is unfortunately common, treat father absence as a normal, if unfortunate, reality. Nevertheless, the father’s absence is keenly felt.

RISK FACTORS IN THE ADAPTATION TO PREGNANCY AND MOTHERHOOD Each woman negotiates the various developmental demands of pregnancy in her own unique way. But there are circumstances that make the adaptation to pregnancy and motherhood especially challenging. These include prior psychiatric disturbance, substance use, early or ongoing trauma and domestic violence, prior pregnancy loss, and the absence of relational, familial and social supports at this critical developmental moment. For high-risk young women, especially teenagers, the challenges of unplanned or unwanted pregnancy in the face of poverty, minimal financial, family, and social support, and single parenthood can be nearly insurmountable.


Psychological and Biological Factors One of the major risk factors in a woman’s adaptation to pregnancy is a prior psychiatric disturbance or symptomatology, specifically depression, anxiety, or other major psychiatric disorder (Condon & Corklindale, 1997; Leifer, 1980; Trad, 1990). Indeed, there is wide agreement that the perinatal period is a time of increased risk for psychiatric disorder; thus, women who are either vulnerable to, or have a history of, psychiatric illness are at particular risk for developing frank psychiatric pathology during pregnancy. Although psychiatric illnesses such as anxiety disorder, obsessive–­compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, and psychotic disorders have been associated with the prenatal period, the most common psychiatric problem in pregnancy involves mood disorder, specifically depression (see Goodman & Brand, Chapter 9, this volume). Several studies have shown a sharp rise in the incidence of depression and other psychiatric disorders in perinatal women relative to the preceding periods in their lives (Kendell, Chalmers, & Platz, 1987; Kendell, Wainwright, Hailey, & Shannon, 1976), although two large studies compared perinatal women with age-, parity-, and SES-matched controls and found that the incidence of depressive diagnoses did not statistically differ from that of controls (Cooper, Campbell, Day, Kennerly, & Bond, 1988; O’Hara, Neunaber, Zekoski, Philips, & Wright, 1990). Nevertheless, in both studies pregnant women did report higher levels of depressive symptomatology (O’Hara et al., 1990). These studies have been criticized for including controls who have borne children in the past few years and therefore are still caring for young children (Moses-Kolko & Feintuch, 2002). The postpartum period is a time of particularly high risk. Prevalence rates of depression in women immediately postpartum are estimated as between 10 and 15% (Buist, 2002; Moses-Kolko & Feintuch, 2002). In many cases, perhaps 10–30%, according to some estimates, depressive episodes are recurrences of earlier illness, and up to 60% of women with perinatal depression may have recurrences later on (Cooper & Murray, 1995; Llewellyn, Stowe, & Nemeroff, 1997). Additionally, a larger percentage (80%) of women experience what may be called



“postpartum blues,” a transient and milder form of depression that does not meet DSMIV criteria for a major depressive episode. In the vast majority of these cases, postpartum blues remit, but in some women the condition progresses into clinical depression. Many researchers have assumed that perinatal depression may be caused by the tremendous hormonal and biological changes that a woman undergoes throughout her pregnancy. Although several studies have failed to show differences in hormone levels between depressed and nondepressed perinatal women, it is likely that the relationship between hormones and psychiatric illness involves a complex interplay not easily captured by resting hormone levels (MosesKolko & Feintuch, 2002). There are also data showing relationships between estrogen levels and neurotransmitters associated with psychiatric disorders, such as serotonin and dopamine (Moses et al., 2000; Wieck et al., 2003). Clearly, environmental and psychological risk factors also play a large role in perinatal depression. Lack of spousal support, a history of childhood trauma, and stressful life events can all be contributing factors (Kendell et al., 1976; Lang, Rodgers, & Lebeck, 2006; Llewellyn et al., 1997; Moses-Kolko & Feintuch, 2002; O’Hara et al., 1990). In addition to diagnosable psychiatric disorders, many women suffer from subclinical levels of anxiety, depression, and stress during pregnancy. Women worry about the changes in their body, the health of their growing baby, the pain of delivery, and the immense role changes in their personal, romantic, occupational, and financial lives (DiPietro et al., 2006; Llewellyn et al., 1997; Moses-Kolko & Feintuch, 2002). These are important findings in relation to a growing body of literature that examines the effect of maternal stress and dysphoria during pregnancy on the pre- and postnatal well-being of the baby (Diego, Field, & HernandezReif, 2005; DiPietro et al., 2006; Monk et al., 2004). Most studies show a deleterious effect of maternal stress and dysphoric emotions on fetal and infant well-being (Diego et al., 2005; Monk, 2001; Monk et al., 2004; Moses-Kolko & Feintuch, 2002). Monk et al. (2004) measured fetal heart rate in women

undergoing a mild stressor, namely a cognitive challenge. Mothers with elevated levels of anxiety and depression showed larger increases in fetal heart rate than did their nonanxious and nondepressed counterparts. The authors suggested that increased autonomic reactivity in the fetus could be a precursor to later difficulties with affect regulation. Likewise, Diego et al. (2005) found that prenatal, but not postnatal, depression in women predicted indeterminate sleep, fussiness, and stress behaviors in neonates, further underscoring the specific effects of prenatal depression on infant well-being. Rogal, Poschman, and Belanger (2007) have linked low birthweight to depressive disorder during pregnancy. Oddly enough, one study showed a modest positive relationship between self-­reported levels of maternal anxiety and depression during pregnancy and infant mental and motor development at age 2 years (DiPietro et al., 2006). It is possible, however, that the relatively affluent and well-­educated participants had a fairly low baseline level of stress, and their increased anxiety and depression reflected active mental preparation for the profound life changes ahead. An area that has received much less attention than perinatal depression, but that seems particularly crucial in working with populations of stressed, traumatized women, is the prevalence and impact of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on pregnancy and later child outcomes. Schwerdtfeger and Nelson Goff (2007), for instance, recently reported that interpersonal trauma history has a negative effect on prenatal attachment. Recent reports suggest that as many as 3–7% of pregnant women meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD, and many of these women are likely to have comorbid mood and other anxiety disorders (Morland, Goebert, & Onoye, 2007; Smith, Poschman, Cavaleri, Howell, & Yonkers, 2006); prevalence rates are especially high (11%) in women who report prior trauma (Smith et al., 2006). Some traumatized women may well have had PTSD prior to becoming pregnant; in others the multiple stressors of pregnancy—­including the lack of control associated with bodily changes, medical procedures, as well as neuroendocrine and psychosocial changes—may result in the pregnancy itself being retraumatizing,

2. The Psychology and Psychopathology of Pregnancy

a­ lthough Smith et al. (2006) suggest that the elevations in hormone levels in pregnancy may diminish the expression of selected symptoms of PTSD. When diagnosed, PTSD in pregnancy has been associated with suicidality, panic disorder, major and minor depressive disorders, and preterm delivery (Rogal et al., 2007; Smith et al., 2006). The latter is likely due to the fact that PTSD has been associated with increased potential for engaging in high-risk health behaviors, such as smoking, alcohol and substance use, poor prenatal care, and excessive weight gain (Morland et al., 2007). In a preliminary study of a small group of high-risk, predominantly teenage pregnant women living in urban poverty, who reported significant histories of abuse and abandonment and who themselves struggled with substance use, depression, and anxiety (Patterson, Slade, & Sadler, 2005), we assessed trauma symptoms using standard measures as well as clinician report. We found that the presence of trauma symptoms—such as dissociation, numbing, and reexperiencing— was inversely correlated with a mother’s capacity to imagine the child and to imagine herself as a parent in a coherent way, that is, with her pregnancy-­related reflective functioning (RF). Prior abuse (sexual or physical) was also negatively correlated with RF. Thus, women who were struggling with the aftereffects of trauma were less likely to be able to hold their unborn child in mind. RF was also correlated with the affective tone and degree of elaboration of the woman’s representation of her unborn child; women who had higher levels of RF were better able to imagine their babies in positive terms and to provide rich and elaborated representations of them. It is important to note, however, that levels of RF and of affective tone and elaboration were generally low in this population.

Pregnancy Loss and Abortion Prior pregnancy losses and abortions also play a significant role in determining a woman’s emotional adaptation to pregnancy. As described above, from the moment she discovers she is to have a baby, the pregnant woman embarks on a complex journey of redefinition, reorganization, and reintegration.


In the case of miscarriage or other forms of pregnancy loss, this process is interrupted and the mother’s developing attachment to the baby is shattered, often with devastating emotional consequences to her. While many studies have confirmed that women experience much greater grief following pregnancy loss than is commonly recognized (see Bennett et al., 2005, for a review), perinatal losses, defined as fetal death beyond 20 weeks gestation and through infant death 1 month postpartum, are especially devastating. At the same time, it is important to note that for women who have developed a very strong bond to the child early in their pregnancy, the grief of an early miscarriage can be as great as a perinatal loss (Bennett et al., 2005). Although a majority of women and their partners recover from this traumatic loss, some 15–25% have ongoing mental health complications (Bennett et al., 2005). Some develop PTSD, depression, and anxiety following the perinatal loss (Hughes, Turton, Hopper, & Evans, 2002). Turton, Hughes, Evans, and Feinman (2001) estimated the lifetime risk for PTSD following perinatal loss to be 29%; there is also an elevated risk (20%) for the development of PTSD in a subsequent pregnancy. Another longterm sequelae of perinatal loss is traumatic grief, which is a syndrome likely distinct from grief, depression, or PTSD (Bennett et al., 2005). Anecdoctal clinical evidence has long supported the notion that the shadows of such losses can persist for generations. The intensity of such feelings and their resonance throughout a woman’s life after the miscarriage must be understood as a function of what she has lost. She has lost a part of herself, the part identified in a profound way with her baby. Because she has received a “traumatizing blow” to revived identifications with her mother and with herself as a baby (Leon, 1986, p. 315), the adaptational “crisis” of pregnancy is harder to resolve. Miscarriage may reevoke earlier losses and, in particular, reawaken unresolved mourning; in our longitudinal study of pregnancy (Dermer, 1995; Slade & Cohen, 1996), miscarriage was significantly related to unresolved mourning on the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI; George, Kaplan, & Main, 1996). Likewise, Hughes,



Turton, Hopper, McGaulley, and Fonagy (2004) found that women who had experienced stillbirth and were pregnant with their next child were more likely to be unresolved on the AAI than pregnant women without a history of stillbirth. In addition, though an equal number of women in the stillbirth and control groups reported prior trauma, only those women who had experienced stillbirth were unresolved in relation to that trauma. Unresolved mourning scores following stillbirth were also predicted by poor support from family after the loss and having a funeral for the infant. In a related study, Hughes and her colleagues investigated whether the standard medical practice of allowing (if not encouraging) mothers to see and hold their dead infant might be associated with mental health and attachment variables. Holding the baby was associated with more adverse outcomes, such that women who had not held their infants were less likely to be depressed, and women who had held their stillborn child were more likely to be depressed. In addition, women who saw their stillborn infants were more likely to be anxious and show symptoms of PTSD following the stillbirth, and rates of disorganized attachment behavior were higher for children born subsequent to the stillbirth at 12-month follow-up. These results raise crucial questions about best practices following fetal demise and suggest that the impulse to help women work through the loss by seeing and holding the infant may sometimes be misguided, if not actually detrimental to the mothers’ mental health. The impulse to have another child is often strong following pregnancy loss. Despite the strength of such feelings, it is necessary to grieve the loss before embarking on another pregnancy (Leon, 1986; Zeanah, 1989). Given the complexity of the task of mourning a lost baby and a lost pregnancy, conception too soon after the loss threatens to truncate the mourning process and even to affect the capacity to become attached to later children. This is probably truest when loss occurs late in the pregnancy. At the same time, conception once the issues of loss and grief are diminished or following a miscarriage that occurs very early in the pregnancy may actually help in resolution and recovery (Leon, 1986; Zeanah, 1989). Great individual differences remain in the time each

woman and couple require to fully heal from the loss (Zeanah, 1989). Abortion is, of course, a different type of pregnancy loss. Some women elect to terminate a pregnancy because they do not feel ready to mother the child they are carrying. Other women terminate pregnancy for medical reasons, such as the presence of genetic defects or multiple fetuses. Elective and medical abortions are very different emotional events. Abortion in a viable pregnancy is typically carried out as early as possible within the first trimester, following a woman’s decision that she does not wish to, for whatever reason, proceed with the pregnancy. Although most women feel some, if not a great deal of, distress about the decision to abort, the wish not to proceed with the pregnancy typically forestalls the development of an attachment to the baby. Women in these circumstances do not allow themselves, as it were, to be psychologically pregnant. The more that a woman does begin to feel connected to the baby (which may occur as part of the process of her making a decision about whether to have a baby or not), the more painful the decision will be. Some women, particularly teenagers, entertain unrealistic, idealized fantasies of the baby-that-couldhave-been and of the magically reparative effect completion of the pregnancy would have had on their lives. In these instances, unresolved guilt, regret, or resentment can persist throughout adulthood. Medical abortions pose a far different challenge to women’s sense of psychological wellbeing. In such instances, both the baby(ies) and the self-as-­mother have been acknowledged; nevertheless, the mother ultimately agrees to terminate her pregnancy. Grief following abortions for fetal anomalies has been shown to be as intense as grief following spontaneous perinatal losses (Zeanah, Dailey, Rosenblatt, & Saller, 1993). In a study of multifetal abortions, women reported powerful feelings of guilt, anxiety, and sadness, despite the fact that selective terminations can increase the chances of carrying at least one fetus to full term, reduce risk to the mother, or reduce the often overwhelming burden of caring for multiple infants (McKinney et al., 1996). A number of women reported dreams of the lost fetus. Interestingly, the majority of these women appeared to recover from the acute distress

2. The Psychology and Psychopathology of Pregnancy

following the abortions, apparently because of the relief of finally giving birth to one or two healthy infants. The situation facing women who elect to abort fetuses whose ultimate survival would be profoundly compromised by genetic defect is somewhat different, because such children are expected to survive the pregnancy and birth. It is life that will be difficult for them and for their parents. Women often feel both guilt and grief at such decisions; guilt at not raising the child despite his or her damages and grief at the loss of the fantasy of a perfect baby. For the medical profession, multifetal abortions and medical abortions are necessary and sensible; for mothers and fathers, however, such procedures bring with them intense and complex feelings. These, too, must be addressed before the couple moves on in creating a family.

Teenage Pregnancy Women are physically capable of bearing children for much of their adult lives, from early in their second into their fifth decade of life. Usually, physical maturity precedes emotional maturity; most girls are capable of bearing children before they are legally able to drive a car or even hold a job. Adolescent women continue to bear children in large numbers in the United States, especially within neighborhoods populated by poor and minority families (Ventura, Abma, Mosher, & Henshaw, 2007). At present, just under half a million teenagers give birth every year, despite considerable efforts over the past 20 years to decrease these rates. For the first time in 15 years, U.S. teen birthrates rose by 3% in 2005 and 2006 (Martin et al., 2007). Because these mothers are still teenagers, they need to attend to their own adolescent developmental tasks while taking on complex maternal roles and responsibilities (Sadler & Cowlin, 2003). This dual developmental process requires much support (usually from family) as well as specialized teen-­parent support programs (Flannagan, McGrath, Meyer, & García Coll, 1995; Sadler & Cowlin, 2003; Sadler et al., 2007). Many teen mothers have significant mental health issues and academic failures that predate their pregnancies and stem from personal histories of abuse, depression, and PTSD, which often amplify their environmental


stressors (Lesser & Koniak-­Griffin, 2000; Moore & Brooks-Gunn, 2002; Seccombe, 2000). For teen mothers, the majority of whom are also single parents, these multiple factors contribute to their difficulties in becoming healthy adults and responsive nurturing parents, in being able to negotiate critical family relationships needed to help raise their babies, in remaining in school, and in limiting rapid subsequent pregnancies (Sadler et al., 2007; Sadler, Swartz, & Ryan-­K rause, 2003). If individual emotional issues in teen mothers (e.g., depression, PTSD) and/or conflicted relationships with key family members (e.g., mothers with their own mental health or substance abuse problems) become overwhelming, outcomes such as incomplete schooling, child neglect or abuse, homelessness, rapid subsequent pregnancies, and further problems with depression or substance abuse are more likely to occur (Meadows-­Oliver, Sadler, Swartz, & Ryan-­K rause, 2007; Sadler, Anderson, & Sabatelli, 2001). It is important to note that youth is not always associated with poor outcomes, however. In many countries young women have children to no ill effect, largely due to extensive family support networks and established traditions that guide parenting. And in some families, where there is an extended network of supportive adults who can rally the teen’s strengths and provide the structures that she will need to continue her schooling, take care of herself and the baby physically, and remain emotionally present and available for the development of this new and profound attachment relationship, outcomes can be positive. As is described below, a variety of community interventions aid in the development of both internal and external resources.

INTERVENTION Psychotherapy and Psychopharmacological Interventions Given the potentially serious impact of maternal psychopathology on both fetal health and maternal caretaking abilities, obtaining appropriate treatment is of critical importance. In most cases, psychotherapy is the preferred treatment if the disturbance is mild. Psychotherapy can both help the



mother ameliorate her current difficulties and prepare her for transition to motherhood. Moreover, it has no biological side effects. In more severe cases, however, as when the mother’s health, judgment, or caretaking ability is seriously impaired, medication may be necessary. For example, a woman in an acute manic episode can engage in reckless and dangerous behavior, such as taking drugs, driving recklessly, or engaging in unsafe sex, that puts her fetus at risk. Although there are significant risks associated with medication, the research on the teratogenic effects of psychiatric medication on fetal and infant health is unfortunately limited. The best research designs would entail prospective, double-blind, placebo­controlled studies, in which mothers were randomly assigned to either receive or not receive various active medications. Because of the obvious ethical problems with this methodology, study designs to date all have been naturalistic, comparing women who chose to go on (or were put on) medications with those who did not. There are fairly extensive data from such studies, particularly in countries such as Sweden, with national health registries, but the possible confounds of illness severity, alcohol use, and cigarette smoking can cloud the picture. According to an extensive literature review on perinatal psychiatric disorders by MosesKolko and Feintuch (2002), most antidepressants are considered relatively safe, although they are not without risks, such as lower gestational age and even a slightly enhanced risk of miscarriage. Other medications, such as lithium, valproate acid, and other mood stabilizers, seem to have more severe risks, such as a greatly increased risk of spinal bifida, congenital malformations, and cardiac anomalies. Benzodiazepines, a class of drugs commonly used to treat anxiety, can depress fetal respiration and cause postnatal withdrawal. Atypical antipsychotics, which also can be used to treat severe cases of anxiety and depression (Galynker et al., 2005), may have fewer side effects, but as they are newer drugs and more recently brought to market, there are fewer data on their possible adverse effects in pregnant women (Moses-Kolko & Feintuch, 2002). In sum, the decision to take medication is a complex and difficult choice that a woman should make in collaboration with her family and her doctors.

Preventive Interventions with Pregnant Women and Their Families As must be evident from the above review, pregnancy is a time of enormous transition and reorganization, and as such presents a rich opportunity for intervention. Over the past 30 years, inspired by Selma Fraiberg’s pioneering work with infants and their mothers, clinicians across the United States have developed a wide range of interventions for pregnant women and their families. These include school-based support programs for teen parents (Sadler et al., 2007; Williams & Sadler, 2001); a wide array of group interventions for pregnant women, including psychotherapy services specifically targeted for pregnant women, which continue to follow the mother and baby once the baby is born; and—for the highest-risk women—home visiting programs that begin in pregnancy. Although such interventions take many shapes and forms, they are all based on the assumption that the rapid emotional, physical, and relational shifts that are intrinsic to pregnancy constitute a sort of crisis during which significant reworking and reorganization can take place. It is also a time when women, because of their enhanced vulnerability and need for support, are particularly open to forming a therapeutic relationship. It is unfortunately the case that there are relatively few clinical services available to pregnant women and their families in the United States, and few organized approaches to intervening during this developmentally challenging time. There are many reasons for these lacunae, but probably the most salient is the general failure of the health and mental health communities to truly appreciate the vulnerability of this period, and their unwitting acceptance of the shared cultural fantasy that this is a blissful and magical time of life. Only in the areas of teenage and other forms of socially high-risk pregnancy have interventions been rigorously researched and more broadly implemented. Generally aimed at families living in urban or rural poverty, whose vulnerabilities in the areas of physical and emotional health have been well-­established, the long-term success of these interventions has been most impressive. For the most part, although these interventions begin in pregnancy, they typically continue well into the baby’s first

2. The Psychology and Psychopathology of Pregnancy

year, and beyond. The most established and well-­researched form of pregnancy intervention in the United States is the Nurse–­Family Partnership (NFP), pioneered by David Olds and his colleagues (Olds et al., 2004; Olds, Sadler, & Kitzman, 2007). The program, which has been implemented in a variety of settings across the United States, is staffed by public health nurses who begin visiting mothers before babies are born, usually during the third trimester of pregnancy. Home visits continue through the baby’s second birthday, and are focused on multiple domains: self-care, baby care, parenting, attachment, and the development of life skills. Olds and his colleagues have emphasized that the effectiveness of this relationshipbased model depends upon the establishment of a relationship with the mother before the baby is born, when crucial internal consolidations are taking place. They have also emphasized that within this population the most at-risk women are those who are not organized enough to seek support services or attend community programs on their own; rather, the caregivers must come to them and work with them in the home. Olds and his colleagues have consistently found that this type of early and intensive intervention is associated with crucial longterm social, emotional, and health-­related outcomes in both mother and baby. The mothers who have most challenged even the most successful intervention programs, including the NFP, are mothers with significant mental health concerns, including trauma, neglect, and abandonment. Typically, these sorts of difficulties cannot be managed by public health nurses without extensive training and consultation (Zeanah et al., 1993). Over the past 5 years we have developed a home visiting program—­M inding the Baby (MTB)—that aims to integrate nursing and mental health services in interventions with high-risk pregnant women (Sadler, Slade, & Mayes, 2006; Slade, Sadler, & Mayes, 2005). Beginning in the third trimester of pregnancy, women are visited weekly by either a pediatric nurse practitioner or a master’s level social worker, who together and singly address the multiple and complex problems faced by these women. An essential aspect of the model is a focus on the mother’s developing reflective capacities over the course of her pregnancy


and during the child’s first 2 years of life. This emphasis on the development of parental reflective functioning underlies all aspects of the intervention—­particularly the focus on health, mental health, parenting, and the development of attachment. In preliminary studies, mothers’ reflective functioning has improved significantly over the course of the intervention, and infant rates of secure attachment were higher (75%) than would be predicted even in normal, middle-class samples. It is important to note that mothers in our sample were extremely limited in their capacity to imagine the baby or themselves as mothers during pregnancy. Their representations and reflections were often stark in their blandness and superficiality; others were infused with conflict and unmetabolized anger and fear. After 2 years many of our mothers were surprisingly able to reflect upon their children’s mental experiences, as separate and distinct from their own, and represented the children and their relationship in ways that were dimensional, complex, and balanced. From the vantage point of mental health, ours was a very vulnerable population, with high rates of depression, PTSD, and other symptoms; in addition, a high proportion of our mothers had suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse, or abandonment. At 1 year, levels of depression had diminished, and mastery scores had improved. In addition, all immunizations were up to date, rates of breastfeeding were high, and there were no child welfare reports, no asthma, and no dental caries up to graduation at 2 years. These encouraging results underscore the importance of a multimodal team approach to the complex needs of this population, and they validate our emphasis on attachment and reflective functioning at all levels of the intervention.

CONCLUSIONS The success of a woman’s adaptation to the tasks of pregnancy is critical to the development of a healthy, flexible, and reciprocal mother–­infant relationship. It is only through such extraordinary transformation that a woman can become a “good-­enough” mother (Winnicott, 1965). All the work of pregnancy has a purpose: to ensure the de-



velopment of a healthy, secure, and loved child. A woman who is unable to manage the many adaptive tasks of pregnancy will find mothering more than difficult, and her child’s development will inevitably suffer in myriad ways. As Bibring and her colleagues (1961) noted long ago, pregnancy is a time ripe for intervention. However, it is also a time when rigid and distorted perceptions of the self and of the baby can be set in motion, setting the stage for a troubled pregnancy and a disturbed mother–child relationship. Thus, signs of trouble in a woman’s adaptation to pregnancy should be taken seriously by obstetricians, nurse midwives, and mental health professionals. When anger, ambivalence, depression, unrelenting anxiety, excessive somatization, or emotional disengagement define the woman’s experience during this period, intervention can be critical and should be initiated as soon as possible. Skilled and compassionate intervention is the best hope for setting the mother’s development back on course, protecting her developing relationship with her unborn child, and strengthening the foundation of the child and family’s future development. Acknowledgments We would like to thank the staff of the Pregnancy Project at the City University of New York for their many contributions to our longitudinal study of pregnancy and mothering; this project was supported by NIH/NICHHD (R01-HD24676). We would also like to thank the clinicians and staff of the Minding the Baby program at the Yale Child Study Center; their contributions have been at the heart of its success. This project has been supported by the Irving B. Harris Foundation, the FAR Fund, the Anne E. Casey Foundation, the Patrick and Catherine Weldon Donaghue Foundation, and NIH/NINR Pilot Study (P30NR08999) and NIH/ NICHD (R21HD048591).

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Handbook of mentalization-based treatment (pp. 271–288). Chichester, UK: Wiley. Sadler, L. S., Swartz, M. K., & Ryan-­K rause, P. (2003). Supporting adolescent mothers and their children through a high school-based child care center. Journal of Pediatric Health Care, 17, 109–117. Sadler, L. S., Swartz, M. K., Ryan-­K rause, P., Seitz, V., Meadows-­Oliver, M., Grey, M., et al. (2007). Promising outcomes in teen mothers enrolled in a school-based parent support program and child care center. Journal of School Health, 77, 121–130. Schwerdtfeger, K., & Nelson Goff, B. S. (2007). Intergenerational transmission of trauma: Exploring mother–­infant prenatal attachment. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 20(1), 39–51. Seccombe, K. (2000). “beating the Odds” versus “changing the odds”: Poverty, resilience, and family policy. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 1094–1113. Seng, J. (2002). A conceptual framework for research on lifetime violence, post traumatic stress and childbearing. Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health, 47, 337–361. Siddiqui, A., & Hägglöf, B. (2000). Does maternal prenatal attachment predict postnatal mother–­ infant interaction? Early Human Development, 59(1), 13–25. Siddiqui, A., Hägglöf, B., & Eisemann, M. (2000). Own memories of upbringing as a determinant of prenatal attachment in expectant women. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 18(1), 67–74. Simkin, P. (1992). Overcoming the legacy of childhood sexual abuse: The role of caregivers and childbirth educators. Birth, 19, 224–225. Slade, A. (2005). Parental reflective functioning: An introduction. Attachment and Human Development, 7, 269–281. Slade, A., & Cohen, L. J. (1996). The process of parenting and the remembrance of things past. Infant Mental Health Journal, 17(3), 217–238. Slade, A., Dermer, M., Gerber, J., Gibson, L., Graf, F., Siegel, N., et al. (1995, March). Prenatal representation, dyadic interaction, and quality of attachment. Paper presented at the biennial meetings of the Society for Research in Child Development, Indianapolis, IN. Slade, A., Sadler, L. S., & Mayes, L. (2005). Minding the Baby: Enhancing parental reflective functioning in a nursing/mental health home visiting program. In L. Berlin, Y. Ziv, L. Amaya-­Jackson, & M. Greenberg (Eds.), Enhancing early attachments (pp.  152–177). New York: Guilford Press. Smith, M. V., Poschman, K., Cavaleri, M. A., Howell, H. B., & Yonkers, K. (2006). Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder in a community sample of low-­income pregnant women. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163, 881–884. Solomon, J., & George, C. (1996). Defining the caregiving system: Toward a theory of caregiving. Infant Mental Health Journal, 17, 183–197.

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Menstrual cycle effects on hypothalamic dopamine receptor function in women with a history of puerperal bipolar disorder. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 17, 204–209. Williams, E. G., & Sadler, L. S. (2001). Effects of an urban high school-based child care center on self-­selected parents and their children. Journal of School Health, 71, 47–72. Winnicott, D. W. (1956). Primary maternal preoccupation. In Through pediatrics to psychoanalysis (pp. 300–305). New York: Basic Books. Zeanah, C. H., Jr. (1989). Adaptation following perinatal loss: A critical review. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 28(4), 467–480. Zeanah, C. H., Jr., Dailey, J., Rosenblatt, M. J., & Saller, N. (1993). Do women grieve following termination of pregnancy for fetal anomalies?: A controlled investigation. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 82, 270–275. Zeigler, T. E., & Snowdon, C. T. (2000). Preparental hormone levels and parenting experience in male cotton-top tamarins, Saguinus oedipus. Hormones and Behavior, 38, 159–167.

Chapter 3

Neurobiology of Fetal and Infant Development Implications for Infant Mental Health Margaret Sheridan Charles A. Nelson


ontemporary models of development emphasize the relevance of a transaction between genetic predispositions and environmental pressures at all stages of development (e.g., see Zeanah & Zeanah, Chapter 1, this volume; Nelson & Bloom, 1997). The concept that development is embedded in context and that geneotypes may express a variety of phenotypes, given variation in this context, has never been more important than it is today. As the field of epigenetics adds to the previously known mechanisms by which the social and physical environment can influence the fundamental building blocks of our anatomy, it becomes increasingly clear that from the moment of conception, children are embedded in a complex context that influences all aspects of development. In this chapter we provide a selective review of some of the ways in which environment and genes interact to influence neurobiology and, subsequently, mental health. We begin by providing an overview of brain development and organization. Next we describe influences that are currently understood to impact mental health and for which the neurobiological instantiation of the mechanism of this impact is somewhat understood. Because our goal is to focus on research that is grounded in the brain sci

ences and has implications for infant mental health, we restrict our discussion to work that uses direct measures of central and peripheral nervous system activity. Peripheral nervous system activity can be assessed using physiological measures, such as measures of cortisol levels or cardiovascular reactivity. The central nervous system can be assessed using various techniques, including the electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures electrical activity at the scalp that is the result of the firing of groups of neurons, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which measures the structure of the brain using magnetic fields. Additionally, since much of the experimental work on developmental neurobiology has employed animal models, we consider these when appropriate. Finally, we provide recommendations for future research, emphasizing current unknowns in the field of infant neurobiology and mental health.

BRAIN DEVELOPMENT The construction and development of the human brain occurs over a very protracted period of time, beginning shortly after conception and, depending on how one views 40

3. Neurobiology of Fetal and Infant Development

the end of development, continuing through at least the end of adolescence. Under the conditions of typical development a similar functional and structural brain organization arises for all humans. An organizing principle of this development lies in its inception in the neural tube. This group of cells, described in detail below, has a motor and sensory organization orientation whereby the dorsal face of the neural tube contains sensory inputs and the ventral surface contains motor outputs. In the developed human this organization is maintained in the spinal cord and, to some extent, in the cortex. The more anterior parts of the brain develop from the ventral surface of the neural tube, and the motor–­sensory organization occurs along the anterior–­posterior axis. Each human brain has several sucli (inner folds) and gyri (the outer portions of the fold) that are similar across individuals. These major sucli and gyri can be used as guides to identify lobes of the brain (see Figure 3.1). This lobar organization is the roughest grain of distinction by which parts of the brain, serving particular functions, can be identified.

EMBRYONIC ORIGINS OF NEURAL DEVELOPMENT In general, the development of the brain has a long trajectory, beginning within a


few weeks after conception and continuing through adolescence. Immediately following conception, the two-­celled zygote rapidly begins to divide into many more cells. About 1 week after conception, approximately 100 unstructured cells have been created, called the blastocyst. This group of cells changes structurally; the center becomes the embryoblast and an outer layer becomes the trophoblast. The embryoblast will give rise to the embryo itself, and the trophoblast will give rise to all of the supporting tissues, such as the amniotic sac, placenta, and umbilical cord. Over the course of the next weeks, the cells comprising the embryo undergo a transformation, forming inner (endoderm), middle (mesoderm), and outer (ectoderm) layers. The ectoderm gives rise to the central (brain and spinal cord) and peripheral nervous system in addition to the epidermis (or skin), mammary glands, pituitary gland and subcutaneous glands, and the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (meninges). The first stage of brain development (neural induction) involves the formation of the primitive neural tube. The chemical agents responsible for the transformation of the ectodermal layer of the embryo into nervous system tissue are called transforming growth factors (Murloz-­Sanjuan & Brivanfou, 2002). As cells in the ectoderm multiply, a surface is formed known as the neural

Parietal Lobe Frontal Lobe Dorsal

Occipital Lobe



Orbital Frontal Cortex Ventral Cerebellum Temporal Lobe

FIGURE 3.1.  Adult brain organization. This figure illustrates the target of developmental growth by showing adult brain organization. Additionally, for reference in this and other sections, an orientation as to dorsal, ventral, anterior, and posterior is provided. Adapted from the Washington Digital Anatomist Program (www9.biostr.washington.edu.da.html). Copyright 1994 by the University of Washington. Reprinted by permission.



plate. Next, a groove forms along a longitudinal axis, as seen in illustration B in Figure 3.2. This groove gradually begins to fold over onto itself and forms a tube. The tube begins to close on the 22nd day of gestation, and if all goes well, is completely closed by the 26th day. The further differentiation of the neural tube into the brain, formed from

FIGURE 3.2.  The process of neurulation. This figure illustrates the process whereby the primitive neural plate (derived from the outer layer of the ectodermal wall of the embryo) first thickens (due to cell proliferation) and then folds over onto itself (Panels A and B). Once this neural tube is formed, closure occurs at the top (rostral) and bottom (caudal) ends. Cells trapped inside the tube will give rise to the central nervous system, whereas those trapped between the outside of the tube and the ectodermal wall (see Panel C, “neural crest”) will give rise to the autonomic nervous system. From Kandel, Schwartz, and Jessell (1991). Copyright 1991 by McGraw-Hill Co. Reprinted by permission.

the rostral portion of the tube, and the spinal cord, formed from the caudal portion of the tube, is called neurulation (for recent review of neural induction and neurulation, see Lumsden & Kintner, 2003). Primitive neural cells (neuroblasts) inside the tube go on to make up the central nervous system, whereas cells between the outside of the tube and the ectodermal wall, called neural crest cells, make up the autonomic nervous system (the elements of the nervous system that regulate autonomic functions such as respiration, heart rate, etc.). See Figure 3.2 for a depiction of these cells. Once the tube itself is closed, the neuroblasts continue their massive proliferation of new neurons (neurogenesis), generally beginning in the fifth prenatal week and peaking between the third and fourth prenatal months (Volpe, 2000; for review, see Bronner-­Fraser & Hatten, 2003). During the peak of proliferation, it has been estimated that several hundred thousand new nerve cells are generated each minute (Brown, Keynes, & Lumsden, 2001). Between the time when the neural tube closes and the sixth prenatal week, this proliferation results in the formation of first three and then five “vesicles” (see Figure 3.3). At the top of the tube the forebrain (prosencephalon), which will eventually constitute the cerebral cortex and cerebral hemispheres (telencephalon) and the hypothalamus and thalamus (diencephalon), forms. Below the forebrain lies the midbrain (mesencephalon), and below the midbrain lies the hindbrain (metecephalon). The rest of the neural tube is the spinal cord. (For an excellent tutorial on cell proliferation, see McConnell, 1995.) We have just discussed the process of prenatal neurogenesis; with few exceptions, virtually every one of the estimated 100 billion neurons we possess (Naegele & Lombroso, 2001) has its genesis in this prenatal development. That is, unlike the rest of the body, the brain does not make new neurons after birth (with the known exception of the olfactory bulb and others, described fully below). Recent literature has noted some important exceptions, which we review briefly below. However, largely it is the case that the brain does not repair itself in response to injury or disease by making new neurons. Until recently, the assumption that the nervous system (aside from the olfactory bulb) contained at birth all the neurons it would

3. Neurobiology of Fetal and Infant Development


FIGURE 3.3.  Once the primitive neural tube is formed and cells begin to differentiate, the central nervous system begins to form. This figure illustrates the early three (Panel A) and then five (Panel B) vesicle stage of development. Specifically, the three major structures (forebrain, midbrain, and hindbrain) gradually differentiate to give rise to more elaborated structures, including the telencephalon and diencephalon (forebrain) and the metencephalon and myelencephalon (hindbrain) (the midbrain changes little at this point in development). From Kandel, Schwartz, and Jessell (1991). Copyright 1991 by McGraw-Hill Co. Reprinted by permission.

ever possess went unchallenged. However, new techniques have made it clear that at least some parts of the central nervous system show cells undergoing mitosis postnatally in humans (Gage, 2000), nonhuman primates (Bernier, Bédard, Vinet, Lévesque, & Parent, 2002; Gould, Beylin, Tanapat, Reeves, & Shors, 1999; Kornack & Rakic, 1999), and rodents (Gould et al., 1999).

As we describe above, there is now agreement in the field that in certain regions of the brain new cells are added for many years postnatally. Where this agreement breaks down is in determining precisely which regions experience this growth after birth. It is clear that there is new neuronal growth in the olfactory bulb and the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus. However, some research



reports growth in regions of the neocortex, such as the cingulate gyrus (part of the prefrontal cortex) and segments of the parietal cortex (for review and discussion, see Gould & Gross, 2002). There has also been at least one report of postnatal neurogenesis in the amygdala, piriform cortex, and inferior temporal cortex in nonhuman primates (Bernier et al., 2002; for review see Barinaga, 2003). One particularly relevant aspect of these cells is the observation that the addition of such cells can be influenced by experience (e.g., Gould et al., 1999). For example, the number of cells produced in the rodent dentate gyrus is increased when rats are placed in so-­called enriched contexts—those in which demands are placed on learning and memory. In contrast, stress in adulthood (e.g., the presence of novel odors, such as the smell of a fox) appears to modify the hippocampus by down-­regulating neurogenesis in the rat dentate gyrus (Gould, 2003). Interestingly, if these same animals are then housed in enriched environments, there is an up-­regulation of neurogenesis in the same area. These postnatal cells in the dentate gyrus and other areas of cortex may differ from prenatally derived cells. For example, postnatally derived cells appear to be normal, although they may have a relatively short half-life (Gould, Vail, Wagers, & Gross, 2001). Additionally, this revised view of neurogenesis is not without its critics (see Rakic, 2002). To return to the process of prenatal development, let us consider the period after prenatal neural proliferation has run its course (generally by the sixth prenatal week). At this time, primitive neuroblasts and glioblasts (glial cell precursors) begin to migrate outward in a radial direction. In the cerebral cortex, neuroblasts are guided to their target destination by radial glial cells, which essentially act as long tentacles onto which the migrating neuroblast attaches itself. The neuroblast is carried along the radial glial fiber until it reaches its target destination, at which point it detaches itself and takes up its final destination. As wave after wave of migrating neurons completes this cycle, eventually six layers (laminae) of the cortex are formed. Importantly, these layers are formed in an inside-out fashion, such that the deepest layers of the cortex are formed first, followed progressively by

more superficial layers. Thus, the oldest part of the cortex is also the deepest part. Finally, because neuroblasts migrate in a radial direction, perpendicular to the cortical surface, columns of related cells also form. Many such columns are thought to subserve specific functions, such as the role of ocular dominance columns in vision. As a rule, cell migration concludes by about the sixth prenatal month, after which these primitive cells begin their process of differentiation. Thus, these cells mature, begin to develop processes (axons and dendrites), and then make connections (synapses) among themselves. Moreover, in some parts of the brain the axons of neurons become coated with myelin, which increases the speed at which they conduct information from one neuron to another. These last two events— synaptogenesis and myelination—have variable courses of development, depending on what part of the brain is being discussed. With regard to myelination, we know that sensory and motor regions begin to myelinate before birth and, for the most part, are completely myelinated within the first months or possibly a year after birth. In contrast, the frontal lobe (particularly the prefrontal cortex) is probably not fully myelinated until close to adolescence (for discussion of myelination, see Jernigan & Tallal, 1990; Yakovlev & LeCours, 1967). Similarly, in terms of synaptogenesis we know that (1) some regions of the brain form synapses before others, and (2) all regions of the brain go through a phase of overproducing synapses, which is followed by a pruning back of these exuberant synapses until adult numbers are reached. For example, synapses in the visual areas of the brain reach their peak of overproduction by about the fourth postnatal month. This is followed by a gradual decline until about the end of the preschool period, when adult numbers of synapses are obtained. The auditory region of the brain follows a similar time course, although it is slightly displaced in time, so that the peak and pruning phases occur slightly later (see Huttenlocher & Dabhholkar, 1997a). Other areas of the brain have a much more prolonged time course. For instance, regions of the prefrontal cortex (e.g., middle frontal gyrus) do not reach their peak until closer to 1 year of age and then show a much more gradual decline, so it is not until adolescence

3. Neurobiology of Fetal and Infant Development

that adult numbers of synapses are obtained (for review of this literature, see Huttenlocher, 1994; see Figure 3.4 for an illustration of the differential time course of synaptogenesis). Additionally, recent structural MRI evidence suggests that the prefrontal cortex and some subcortical areas such as the basal ganglia or hippocampus have a prolonged developmental time course, reaching adult levels of grey/white matter ratios only in late adolescence and early adulthood (Lenroot & Giedd, 2006).


eral statement does not do justice to the age­specific changes that occur during the first two decades of life. Thus, the assembly of basic architecture occurs during the first two trimesters of fetal life, with the last trimester and the first few postnatal years reserved for changes in connectivity and function. The most prolonged changes occur in the wiring of the brain (synaptogenesis) and in making the brain work more efficiently (myelination), both of which show dramatic, nonlinear changes from the preschool period through the end of adolescence.



Overall, brain development begins within weeks of conception and continues through the adolescent period. Of course, this gen-

The classic examples of developmental plasticity are generally drawn from early sensory development. In theses examples, it appears

FIGURE 3.4.  As described in the text, synaptogenesis follows a different time course in different regions of the human brain. For example, synapses in the visual cortex peak before those in the auditory cortex, which in turn peaks before those in the frontal cortex. Similarly, the retraction of synapses to adult numbers begins sooner and completes its course first in visual, then in auditory, and finally in the frontal cortex. From Huttenlocher and Dabhholkar (1997b). Copyright 1997 by John Wiley and Sons. Reprinted by permission.



there may be critical periods for development. A critical period is a time during development in which exposure to some environmental stimuli is required for typical brain development. Critical periods have been established for some sensory modalities such as vision. Maurer, Lewis, Brent, and Levin (1999) have reported that among infants born with cataracts that are removed and new lenses placed within months of birth, even just a few minutes of visual experience can lead to a big improvement in visual acuity. However, the longer the cataracts are left untreated, the less favorable the outcome. In the broad domain of visual function, we know that among Braille-­reading individuals who lost their sight after age 16, activation of the primary visual cortex is absent, whereas such activation is present among those who lost their sight before age 16 (Sadato et al., 1998). Such findings are also consistent with a critical period for visual function (Knudsen, 2004). Other areas of the brain and development of neural functions would be better characterized by having sensitive periods. A sensitive period is a time during development when the environment can have maximal impact on brain development. The difference between sensitive and critical periods is that the latter produces an inability to impact that aspect of brain develop later, whereas the former allows for development outside of the sensitive period time window. We know that between 6 and 12 months of age, the ability to discriminate phonemes from languages to which an infant is not exposed declines dramatically (for review, see Werker, 2006; Werker & Vouloumanos, 2001). Nevertheless, the door does not shut completely on retaining the ability to discriminate non-­native contrasts. For example, if before 12 months of age infants are given additional experience with speech sounds in a non-­native language, this ability is retained (Kuhl, Tsao, & Liu, 2003). A similar phenomenon occurs in the visual domain, specifically, in the domain of face processing. Pascalis, de Haan, and Nelson (2002) have reported that 6-month-olds, 9-month-olds, and adults are all equally good at discriminating two human faces, but only 6-month-olds can also discriminate two monkey faces. However, it is also the case that if 6-month-olds are given 3 months

of experience viewing monkey faces, they retain this ability (Pascalis et al., 2005). Thus, as is the case with speech, face processing also appears to go through a developmentally sensitive period, although one that can be extended with specific experience. Plasticity per se can be adaptive or maladaptive for the organism, depending on the experience and the brain’s response to the experience. For example, recovery from brain injury and the sparing of function in the face of brain injury are both examples of positive adaptation. On the other hand, cell death due to exposure to teratogens (e.g., alcohol) or lack of normal cell differentiation due to deprivation is clearly maladaptive. In both cases, of course, the brain has been modified by some experience. It is important to ask how this alteration occurs. We know that changes can occur at multiple levels, including physiological (e.g., the release of more neurotransmitters to compensate for cell death or damage), anatomical (e.g., the extension of existing axons into the space vacated by axons that have been deleted due to injury), and metabolic (e.g., the brain can “grow” new capillaries in response to the demand for oxygenated blood in an area being recruited for a new function, such as might occur with learning a new physical activity). All these changes can occur at virtually any point in the life cycle. However, in the context of development and the mission of this book, it would be useful to consider this problem at a more conceptual level. To do so brings us to the models of plasticity offered by William Greenough and his colleagues (for general reviews, see Greenough & Black, 1992). Greenough has proposed two mechanisms whereby synapses are formed based on experience. Experience-­expectant development refers to a process whereby synapses form after some minimal experience has been obtained. Greenough has proposed that the unpatterned, temporary overproduction of synapses dispersed within a relatively wide area of the brain during a sensitive period provides for the structural substrate of “expectation.” Subsequent retraction of synap­ ses that have not formed connections at all, or that have formed abnormal connections, then follows. The expected experience produces patterns of neural activity, targeting those synapses that will be selected for pres-

3. Neurobiology of Fetal and Infant Development

ervation. The assumption is that synaptic contacts are initially transient and require some type of confirmation for their continued survival. If such confirmation is not obtained, synapses will be retracted according to a developmental schedule or due to competition from confirmed synapses. By contrast, experience-­dependent development refers to a process unique to the individual, whereby specific and unique experiences influence brain development and function. The quintessential example of experience-­dependent development is learning, something we are capable of doing throughout the lifespan. In summary, experience-­expectant development is a time-­limited function that depends on experience occurring during a sensitive or critical period of development. In contrast, experience-­dependent development is not bound by time and can occur at any point in the life cycle. Experience-­expectant development tends to apply particularly to sensory and perceptual functions (e.g., the development of vision), whereas experience­dependent development can apply to virtually all behaviors. What remains to be seen is if the mechanisms of experience-­expectant development seen during critical periods will also be important for behaviors that merely have sensitive periods. Thus far, processes related to emotional development appear to be best described as experience-­dependent. In this chapter we focus on examples of experience-­dependent development in the sections that follow, emphasizing plasticity in the developing organism (for elaboration, see Nelson & Bloom, 1997; Nelson, deHaan, & Thomas, 2006).

Neural Plasticity and Early Stressful Experiences A significant amount of research on maternal stress has accumulated over the last 40 years or so. Much of this research has examined the mechanisms and impact of preand postnatal maternal stress on rat pups, monkeys, and human children, in addition to a significant body of literature on the direct effect of early stress on monkey and human development. The effects of stress hormones on young children’s development and the influence of the postnatal environment on the regulation of these hormones have been extensively studied. In humans,


the hypothalamic–­pituitary–­adrenal (HPA) axis regulates the production of cortisol, a glucocorticoid produced in response to stressful experiences (Gunnar, 1998; Stansbury & Gunnar, 1994). In the study of the effects of stress on brain development, researchers have made extensive use of animal models. Though animal brain development is, clearly, not identical to human brain development, parallels between animal and human brain systems have been found, and many researchers believe that animal data can inform us about human brain development. Animals are often used in place of humans as subjects when the use of human subjects would be impossible and/ or unethical. In addition, many animals can be exposed to a particular environment that only seldom occurs in human populations, allowing researchers to better understand the effect of that environment on brain development. In the following section we consider rodent, monkey, and human studies of the effect of stress on neurodevelopment. When individuals experience a frightening, novel, or otherwise stressful stimulus, a stress response begins with two stages. First a sympathetic response, mediated primarily by catecholamines (epinephrine and neuroepinephrine) is activated within a few seconds of the onset of stress. If the stressful stimulus is sufficient, after a few minutes, the HPA response begins. The activation of the HPA axis leads to a release of glucocorticoids and eventually cortisol which, in humans, can be detected in the periphery approximately 30 minutes after the onset of a stressor. Areas in the central (hippocampus) and peripheral (adrenal gland) nervous system have glucocorticoid receptors that are activated by the pituitary release of these hormones. Because the activity of the HPA axis is thought to be sensitive to emotion processes, and because activity of the system can be measured noninvasively via levels of cortisol in samples of saliva, the HPA axis has been a popular area of investigation in the study of infant emotion processes and brain development (Stansbury & Gunnar, 1994). Studies of humans and other primates have attempted to elucidate the relationship between maternal stress, early adversity, and child developmental outcomes. In the rhesus macaque, a condition called peer rearing has been studied extensively. In this condi-



tion, monkeys are taken from their mothers after birth and reared with their same-age peers. This environment leads to significant increases in anxiety and aggression (Soumi, 2006). Given this information and the findings in rats, reviewed above, we would predict that environments with little opportunity for a sensitive primary attachment figure would result in profound neurodevelopmental changes. One example of such an environment would be institutions in which children are raised. However, the animal literature further predicts that these developmental changes may be similar in nature, if not degree, to those produced by natural variation in maternal behavior in humans. It seems likely that when measured in humans, HPA axis activation to novelty or stress and serotonin activity will be affected. Because of ethical limits on the kinds of techniques and studies that can be completed in humans, and because of the increased complication of the human system, the measures used to understand child neurobiology are significantly different from those used in most animal studies. The glucocorticoid response to a novel or stressful situation as measured by salivary cortisol can continue to be used as a measure of HPA axis reactivity. However, in humans, central serotonergic function is more difficult to assess, and multiple proxy variables or associated variables are used. One example is the use of hippocampal volume and function in children and adults. As described earlier, the hippocampus is a subcortical structure known to play an important role in learning and memory. The size of the hippocampus can be assessed in children and adults noninvasively using MRI techniques. Additionally, given its clear involvement in memory formation, memory and learning behavior and associated neural correlates can sometimes be used to assess hippocampal function. This area is significant to the research we have been reviewing because it is richly innervated by glucocorticoid receptors. However, other areas of the brain, including medial and lateral frontal regions (that are thought to be involved in effortful attention, inhibitory control, and self-­regulation of emotion and behavior) and the amygdala (that has been implicated in fear and stress reactions) appear to have high levels of glucocorticoid receptors (Gunnar, 1997, 1998)

and may also be affected by early experience. Let us begin with variations in maternal behavior in the human. Because of its complicated nature, the effects of variation in maternal behavior have been studied in a variety of ways in humans. There has been investigation of lack of caregiver attention, as in institutionalized children, and unpredictable and dangerous caregiving, as in abusive and neglectful parenting. Either of these can be conceptualized as early stressors to the child. Additionally, some work has examined normal variation in caregiving, as in attachment style or maternal sensitivity. Finally, extensive work has considered the role of maternal depression in the modulation of caregiving behavior. These last two may be conceptualized as mechanisms by which environmental or maternal stressors effect child development. As described earlier, institutionalization has a profoundly negative effect on child development. In an ongoing study (Bucharest Early Intervention Project [BEIP]) three groups of children are being followed from infancy through middle childhood. An institutionalized group is composed of children who have lived virtually their entire lives in institutional settings in Bucharest, Romania. A foster care group includes children who were institutionalized at birth and then, following an extensive baseline assessment, randomly assigned to foster care (the mean age of placement was 22 months). Finally, a never-­institutionalized group includes children living with their biological families in the greater Bucharest community (for details, see Zeanah et al., 2003). The findings from this study have been reported and reviewed in a variety of outlets (see Nelson, Zeanah, & Fox, 2007, for a recent overview). Significant differences in psychopathology were found between the institutionalized group and foster care group in that the latter had significantly fewer internalizing disorders than the institutionalized group. Thus, in contrast to internalizing disorders, foster care has shown no beneficial effects on reducing the symptoms of attention-­deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). The rates for the never-­institutionalized group were similar to those of comparison samples in the United States and hence significantly lower

3. Neurobiology of Fetal and Infant Development

than for either of the experimental groups. Collectively, this study demonstrates that early psychosocial deprivation appears to be causally related to subsequent psychopathology, and that foster care is more effective in reducing symptoms of internalizing versus externalizing disorders. It has been amply demonstrated that adults who have survived early stressful experiences such as abuse as children are at increased risk for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder (Caspi et al., 2003; Gilbertson et al., 2002). These adults also show reduced hippocampal volume and, in some instances, impairments in memory as a result (Bremner et al., 1997; Stein, Koverola, Hanna, Torchia, & McClarty, 1997). It is thought that the mechanism for action is the neurotoxic effects of circulating glucocorticoids on the hippocampus (see Nelson & Carver, 1998, for a review of the effects of stress on brain and memory development). In one study comparing twins who both experienced early abuse but only one of whom experienced combat as an adult, combat-­related PTSD was associated specifically with the effects of early stress on hippocampal volume (Gilbertson et al., 2002). It may be that early childhood abuse results in modulations of reactivity to fear-­related stimuli that makes individuals more vulnerable to PTSD in adulthood. Finally, in humans, as in other animals, natural variation in maternal sensitivity appears to be related to cortisol reactivity and potentially, psychopathology. The role of maternal sensitivity in modulating the later stress response can be conceptualized in a number of ways. Gunnar (1998) provides the following conceptualization: If elevated levels of glucocorticoids may deleteriously effect the development of the brain (e.g., reducing hippocampal volume) and, consequently, the development of competent cognitive and emotional functioning (e.g., HPA axis reactivity), evolution has likely built in mechanisms to keep these hormones at low levels during infancy. In Gunnar’s conceptualization, one of these mechanisms is maternal sensitivity. At birth, the neonate’s HPA system is highly reactive and labile (Gunnar, Brodersen, Krueger, & Rigatuso, 1996). Between 2 and 6 months of age, the infant’s stress systems are becoming organized via the transaction


between the child and a sensitive caregiver, who buffers the reactivity of the HPA axis (Gunnar, Brodersen, & Rigatuso, 1993). Gunnar et al. (1993) found that infants who gave clear signals of their distress at 2 months and who had sensitive and responsive caregivers were likely to have an effective stress­regulatory system under maternal or dyadic regulation by 6 months of age. Stressful experiences that are not properly regulated by the caregiver before the infant is capable of self-­regulation likely influence the development of particular brain structures and reactivity of the HPA axis (Gunnar, 1997). Early repeated or chronic activation of the HPA axis, either by early stressful experiences or lack of maternal buffering against these experiences, may promote the development of anxiety difficulties and/or more anxious temperaments. Certainly, the evidence reviewed above is consistent with this view in both animals and humans. Consistent with the idea that the quality of the attachment relationship has been associated with the ability of the caregiver to buffer the activity of the HPA axis, Spangler and Grossmann (1993) found that infants who demonstrate a secure attachment relationship also demonstrate lower cortisol levels after the stressor of the Strange Situation than do insecurely attached infants. Additionally, evidence has accumulated that infant cortisol reactivity is linked with maternal cortisol reactivity, particularly when infants and mothers are physically together (Thanh Tu et al., 2007; Thompson & Trevathan, 2008). It has been hypothesized that the variable mediating the relationship between attachment status or maternal sensitivity and HPA axis activity may be the infant’s sense of his or her ability to cope with stress. According to Gunnar (1993), it is not stressors but rather the child’s appraisal of his or her ability to cope with stressors in the environment that influences the activity of the HPA axis. If adequate coping resources are available, including the child’s own competencies and resources, the child’s HPA stress response may be reduced or prevented, even in the face of great stressors (Gunnar, 1994). Presumably, securely attached children have a history of responsive and sensitive caregiving, whereas insecurely attached children have a history of inconsistent and/or rejecting



caregiving. Securely attached children can depend on their caregivers to respond appropriately as a buffer to stress, whereas the insecurely attached children cannot depend on their caregivers to respond appropriately. Therefore, securely attached children may be more likely than insecurely attached children to judge their coping resources to be adequate in the face of stressors and consequently show less of a physiological response to stress. Nachmias, Gunnar, Mangelsdorf, Parritz, and Buss (1996) found that infants who were both insecurely attached and temperamentally prone to approach new situations with caution were particularly at risk for elevated stress reactivity, as these infants were especially prone to experience novel events as possibly threatening and to expect their caregivers to be ineffective in buffering them from the effects of stress. One situation in which mothers are unlikely to adequately buffer their infants from external stressors is when the mothers are depressed. Transmission of increased risk for psychopathology from mother to child could be both genetic and environmental. Researchers have speculated on how depression may influence brain development by considering what is known about depressed maternal behavior and what is thought to be critical for healthy emotional development in the infant. In normal mother–­infant interactions, the mother regulates her behavior to meet the needs of her infant so that the infant is appropriately stimulated (Field, Healy, Goldstein, & Guthertz, 1990). Optimally, the mother’s and infant’s attentive and affective behaviors become synchronized. In the depressed mother–­infant dyad, the depressed mother is often emotionally unavailable or affectively unresponsive; consequently, the infant may experience behavioral disorganization, and the mother’s and infant’s attentive/affective behaviors would become desynchronized. Field et al. (1990) suggested that such desynchronization leads to failure of the infant to develop arousal modulation and organized attentive/affective behavior. Many studies confirm that depressed mothers engage in less optimal interactional behavior with their infants than do nondepressed mothers. Lack of attentive/affective synchronization and exposure to high levels of negative affectivity has been found among depressed mother–­infant dyads (see Good-

man & Brand, Chapter 9, this volume). These effects may have a significant impact on the pruning of synapses and organization of neuronal groups, particularly during the first 2 years of life. Exposure to increased levels of maternal negativity, including flat affect, withdrawal, and intrusiveness, may lead to amplification of neuronal groups associated with negative affectivity and withdrawal behavior (i.e., in the right prefrontal cortex), and lack of exposure to sufficient levels of positive affectivity may lead to pruning of synapses associated with positive, approach behavior (i.e., in the left prefrontal cortex). This pattern of amplification and pruning would be expected to be reflected in relative right frontal asymmetry, a pattern commonly found among infants of depressed mothers when investigated using EEG. Once established, the cortical maps become progressively less vulnerable to change (Dawson, Hessl, & Frey, 1994). These maps guide the infant in interpreting future experiences with the external environment (Dawson et al., 1994). If exposure to maternal behavior influences infant emotional development, infants should demonstrate sensitivity to long-term effects from exposure to maternal depression during the first few years of life. Although researchers have had difficulty separating the effects of chronicity and severity of maternal depression from that of timing, there is evidence that infants are particularly sensitive to the effects of maternal depression between 6 and 18 months of age (Alpern & Lyons-Ruth, 1993; Dawson, Frey, Panagiotides, Osterling, & Hessl, 1997; Dawson et al., 1994). A number of studies have found that exposure to maternal depression during this period predicts emotional and cognitive difficulties during the preschool and early school years, regardless of mothers’ depression status during these later years (Alpern & Lyons-Ruth, 1993; Wolkind, Zajicek­Coleman, & Ghodsian, 1980). Additionally, Dawson et al. (1997) found that the number of postnatal months of maternal depression was significantly related to infant frontal EEG pattern, whereas the number of prenatal months of maternal depression was not. This finding suggests that exposure to the depressogenic environment may be necessary to produce the atypical EEG patterns seen in infants of depressed mothers.

3. Neurobiology of Fetal and Infant Development

Finally, some studies have demonstrated increased cortisol reactivity in children of depressed mothers (Essex, Kline, Cho, & Kalin, 2002). This finding indicates that differences in infant emotionality may be related to the same systems that are modified by parenting in other species and conditions. However, it is noteworthy that findings relating differences in maternal behavior associated with depression to child emotional outcomes usually consider other mechanisms. (For a more complete discussion of child emotion and frontal asymmetry, see below.) It is additionally of note that, in humans, a variety of findings linking cortisol and maternal variation in behavior have been noted, including low baseline cortisol, interpreted by some as blunted HPA axis reactivity (Schechter et al., 2004), which contrasts considerably with hypothesized and described increased HPA axis reactivity.

Summary of Neural Plasticity Collectively, it is clear that early deleterious experience can have significant negative effects on the developing brain that may persist well into childhood and beyond. It is likely that maternal care has such a dramatic effect on neurobiology at this time period because infancy is a critical point for the development of these systems. Clearly, the developing brain can be profoundly influenced by experience. Here we have discussed particular experiences that appear to impact neural development most during the first few years of life and that are frequently mediated by the parent–child relationship. It is particularly worthy of note that numerous experiences can affect neurobiology later in life, as the growing child continues to learn and develop. As the child extends his or her sphere of experience far outside the parent–child relationship, these experiences may directly affect the child and be less mediated by the parent–child interaction.

NEUROBIOLOGY OF INFANT TEMPERaMeNT Many differences in infant emotional expression have been linked to temperament, the early and stable emotional predispositions


that appear to modulate the interaction between the child and his or her environment. In human and some nonhuman primates, rearing differences are modulated by allelic variation. It has been argued elsewhere that the effectiveness of humans at niche exploitation is the result of greater allelic variation. That is, the within-­species variety in phenotypic expression, particularly as an interaction with environmental stimuli, leads to increased ability to exploit a variety of environments (Soumi, 2006). One method researchers have used to study infant brain development, which has been of particular use in understanding the emotional life of infants, is the EEG. Scientists have employed EEG methods to study regional brain activity that generates emotion and affective style (Davidson, 1994b). The EEG reflects (1) the background electrical activity that exists in the brain at all times and (2) the summation of pools of neurons that conduct their electrical charges (brought about by synaptic activity) through extracelluar currents to the surface of the scalp. EEG recordings are taken by placing electrodes over several sites on the scalp. The electrical activity from each site is measured and analyzed compared to a baseline reference point (usually an electrode on the face). Analyses can also compare relative levels of activity at each of the sites.

Background to EEG and Emotion Much of the research using EEG measures in infants has explored the role of the prefrontal cortex in emotion generation and regulation. The prefrontal cortex is singularly capable of integrating all the elements required to generate and planfully regulate emotional expression because it has a unique neural circuitry connecting it in reciprocal relationships to the parietal and temporal regions, the limbic system, and basal ganglia (Nauta, 1971). Researchers have hypothesized that the right and left prefrontal cortex acts in concert as an approach–­withdrawal system, with the left hemisphere specialized for approach­related behaviors and emotions such as joy, interest, and anger. The right hemisphere is specialized for withdrawal-­related behaviors and emotions such as anxiety, distress, sadness, and disgust and associated with be-



havior such as crying (Dawson, 1994a; Fox, 1994).

Studies with Infants According to Fox (1994), the approach–­ withdrawal dichotomy is present at birth, and the neonate’s initial responses to the environment are largely based on the approach versus withdrawal continuum rather than on discrete emotional responses. Infants expand their range of emotional states by adding and integrating new motor patterns associated with either approach or withdrawal, so that by the end of the first year, the approach–­ withdrawal dichotomy has been differentiated to embody the “basic” emotions that most 1-year-olds experience, including joy, interest, anger, distress, disgust, and fear (Fox, 1994). As the prefrontal cortex and corpus callosum (the bundle of fibers that connects the two hemispheres) develop over the first few years of life emotional responses become further differentiated and more complex (Fox, Bell, & Jones, 1992). Fox and Davidson (1986) have presented evidence that patterns of asymmetric frontal lobe activation, correlating with affective behavior, are present in the neonate. This and other evidence has led Davidson and others to suggest that these individual differences in emotional reactivity are influenced by trait-like individual differences in baseline asymmetry (Davidson, 1994a). Fox et al. (1992) proposed that the combination of the level of arousal of each hemisphere and the communication between hemispheres interacts to produce individual differences in response to specific emotional stimuli. Therefore, as the infant develops, the asymmetry patterns become a more solidified trait, though still susceptible to short-term changes in response to contextual influences (e.g., exposure to strong affective elicitors). Studies have demonstrated that there is modest stability in asymmetry scores between individuals by the second half of the first year of life (Bell & Fox, 1994). And this difference has been linked to temperament: High-­reactive infants who were more likely to cry at maternal separation across age demonstrated greater relative right frontal activation, whereas infants who were not likely to cry showed greater relative left

frontal activation (Kagan, Snidman, Kahn, & Towsley, 2007). The tendency to approach or withdraw appears to be stable in childhood and across time in adulthood; however, these tendencies can be influenced by early experiences (Davidson, Ekman, Saron, Senulis, & Friesen, 1990). For example, fearful individuals can learn to approach rather than withdraw from the object they fear (Davidson et al., 1990). Although approach or withdrawal behavior patterns may change as the result of experience, the original frontal asymmetry patterns may remain (Fox, Calkins, & Bell, 1994). Dawson and colleagues (e.g., Dawson, 1994; Dawson, Panagiotides, Grofer Klinger, & Hill, 1992) have suggested that it is necessary to study overall frontal activity level as well as electrocortical asymmetry to understand emotional reactivity and regulation. According to Dawson (1994), emotions can be characterized along two domains: type and intensity. She has speculated that measures of asymmetry predict individual differences in types of emotions expressed, whereas the amount of generalized frontal activity predicts differences in emotional reactivity and intensity. The two measures are uncorrelated in individuals: Expressions of both happiness and sadness were associated with general increases in activity over the frontal cortex (Dawson et al., 1992). As described above, the development of individual patterns of brain activation is believed to be the result of a continual transactional process between genetically coded programs for the formation of structures and the connections among structures and environmental influence. One manner in which genetic makeup is believed to exert its influence is via temperament. Kagan and Snidman (1991) have defined temperament as the “variety of initial, inherited profiles that develop into different envelopes of psychological outcomes” (p.  856). According to Bell and Fox (1994) and Calkins, Fox, and Marshall (1996), a child’s temperament can be represented by his or her pattern of frontal asymmetry, which is indicated via his or her threshold for positive and negative reactivity and the intensity of his or her reaction to stimuli. Researchers have found that the emotional

3. Neurobiology of Fetal and Infant Development

response to single stimuli is correlated with frontal asymmetry recorded previously in the same adult or child (Davidson & Fox, 1989; Wheeler, Davidson, & Tomarken, 1993). For instance, Wheeler and colleagues (1993) found that individual differences in the quality and intensity of adult subjects’ responses to positive and negative film clips were related to baseline asymmetry measured 3 weeks prior to the viewing of the clips. Individuals with stable, increased leftsided and decreased right-sided frontal activation described more intense positive affect in response to positive films, compared to the other subjects; subjects with increased right-sided frontal activation described more negative responses to the negative films, compared to subjects with other patterns of baseline asymmetry. Studies measuring electrocortical activity have begun to shed light on the possible underpinnings of the temperamental construct “behavioral inhibition.” Calkins et al. (1996) have defined behavioral inhibition as the tendency to withdraw and display negative affect in response to new people, places, events, and objects. Behaviorally inhibited children tend to find unfamiliar or challenging events more stressful than do noninhibited children (Reznick et al., 1986). According to Kagan and colleagues, behavioral inhibition is a categorical construct, with 10% of healthy, white American children displaying extreme behavioral inhibition; these children represent a qualitatively different group of individuals, both behaviorally and biologically, from the remaining 90% (Kagan, Reznick, & Gibbons, 1989; Kagan & Snidman, 1991; Reznick et al., 1986). Inhibited children, like depressed adults, exhibit left frontal hypoactivation (Davidson, 1992, 1994a; Henriques & Davidson, 1990), compared to their peers. Davidson (1994a) suggested that these findings indicate that inhibited children, who are wary to approach novel objects and people, may have an approach deficit (as opposed to an overactive withdrawal system). Frontal asymmetry may also be related to a vulnerability to certain psychopathologies. Davidson (1992) proposed that a small percentage of children with the physiological profile of the inhibited child may be vulnerable to psychopathology, such as an affective disorder, in the face of relatively extreme


life stressors later in life. However, a larger percentage may be vulnerable to subclinical characteristics such as dysthymic mood, shyness, and decreased positive affect (Davidson, 1992). This vulnerability may be related to the association between right-sided frontal asymmetry and temperament; however the independence of the contribution of frontal asymmetry to predicting these outcomes has not yet been determined. Dawson and colleagues (e.g., Dawson, Grofer Klinger, Panagiotides, Hill, & Spieker, 1992; Dawson, Grofer Klinger, Panagiotides, Spieker, & Frey, 1992) have conducted a series of experiments to examine the relation between maternal depressive symptomatology and infant prefrontal cortex development, and they have found several differences in the EEG patterns between infants of nonsymptomatic and symptomatic mothers. Though the hypothesis that the negative affect and mood common among infants of depressed mothers may reflect an endogenous trait cannot be dismissed, several researchers have suggested that infants of depressed mothers demonstrate relative right frontal EEG asymmetry as the result of repeated exposure to a depressed mother. It may be that inhibited temperament and accompanying right–left asymmetry in activation over frontal cortex, as measured by EEG, are ways of describing the phenotype associated with a vulnerable genotype (e.g., in stress the presence of at least one short allele on the 5-HTT gene). On the other hand, inhibited temperament and EEG frontal asymmetry may simply be the phenotypic result of a gene–­environment interaction. Dawson et al. (1994) have noted that vulnerability to depressed mothering may be due to the state of the prefrontal cortex and the salient developmental tasks to be achieved during that period of development. From 6 to 18 months, there is a rapid growth of the prefrontal cortex as well as a period of synaptic excess in this region (Chugani & Phelps, 1986; Dawson et al., 1994; Huttenlocher, 1979). Because the prefrontal cortex plays a critical role in the development of self-­regulatory behaviors during this time, and because these self-­regulatory behaviors are heavily influenced by parental behavior, the period of 6–18 months may be a time of particular vulnerability to the effects of ma-



ternal depression on prefrontal cortex development and the ability to regulate emotion (Dawson et al., 1994). The way in which maternal depression influences frontal activity in the infant is not well understood. However, in the context of the literature (reviewed above) on the influence of variations in maternal care on neurodevelopment, it seems reasonable to conclude that this relationship may involve more than the genetic transmission of temperamental predisposition.

Summary of Infant Temperament The prefrontal cortex plays a critical role in emotion generation and regulation from an early age. This region of the brain appears to be dichotomized into an approach–­ withdrawal system, with the approach system localized to the left prefrontal cortex and the withdrawal to the right prefrontal cortex. The relative activation and interaction of the left and right prefrontal cortices are thought to be associated with individual patterns of emotional reactivity. Research also suggests that individual activation patterns are initially somewhat plastic and become more fixed over time. These differences may be related to what has been described as infant temperament—that is, stable patterns of emotional reactivity that appear to influence childhood and adult behavior and psychopathology. Indeed, despite our discussion of temperament, in this, as in the previous section, we present significant evidence for the interaction between environment and individual variables in shaping infant and adult neurobiology

CONCLUSIONS Our goal in writing this chapter was to provide a framework for considering how research in the brain sciences can facilitate our understanding of infant mental health. We began by providing an overview of brain development. Here we demonstrated that even as early as the first months after conception, the embryonic and fetal brain can be influenced by exogenous factors, such as maternal stress. We then proceeded to show that experiential effects on brain development continue postnatally. Indeed, aside from sensory

functions (e.g., the development of the visual system or the speech system onto which the language system scaffolds itself) and possibly some aspects of emotional development, we made it clear that experience can exert its influence on brain development well beyond the first years of life. It is likely that this long period of influence is made possible by two events. The first is the relatively long trajectory of overproducing synapses and then the retraction of these exuberant connections based on experience. The second is the potential for synapses to be altered by experience at many points in the lifespan (e.g., increased dendritic arborization due to experience). In this section, we illustrated the usefulness of animal models in understanding early development by extensively describing recent work in the rodent and monkey that demonstrates the importance of parenting in shaping neurobiology. The potential for the brain to be modified by experience was richly illustrated by the next topic we discussed: the relation between brain and affect as measured by the EEG. Here it was made clear that infants of depressed mothers show altered patterns of EEG activity, suggesting that these patterns may have come about in response to exposure to maternal depression. Unfortunately receiving far less study are the effects of positive rearing experiences on infant brain development; for example, we do not know whether there are beneficial effects to being reared by highly competent, sensitive caretakers, and if there are, how these effects would be manifested by the EEG, and whether there is a critical or sensitive period for these effects to be realized. In a related fashion, we know nothing about protective factors, such as those that might transpire in a family with a depressed mother but with an infant of positive temperament and an otherwise high-­functioning family. Finally, also unknown is the extent to which we can intervene in the life of the “atrisk” (for depression or other internalizing disorders) infant, based on the principles of neuroscience. It is desirable to think that the trajectory of infants affected by negative experiences can be positively altered by intervening life events, such as by (1) successfully treating the mother’s depression or (2) providing the infant with compensatory experiences. Again, going to the rodent model, a

3. Neurobiology of Fetal and Infant Development

recent paper demonstrated that differences in adult HPA axis reactivity resulting from early stressful experiences in rats could be reversed by the application of enriching environments during the pubertal period (Francis, Diorio, Plotsky, & Meaney, 2002). It should be apparent that we have much work ahead of us. A particular area of need lies in the development of methods that are suitable for studying the relation between brain development and behavioral development. In addition, we also need adequate conceptualization as to what risk and protective factors mean in the context of neural plasticity. Finally, we need a better understanding of the role of intervention in modifying the relationship between early experience and pathology. The last 10 years have seen increased information on these topics. It continues to be of utmost importance, we believe, that research in the behavioral and neurosciences mutually inform each other. It is our hope that investigators in both research areas continue to join forces to present a unified front in improving our understanding of infant development and in creating intervention programs that are based on sound neuroscientific principles. Acknowledgments We would like to thank Michelle Bosquet for her numerous helpful contributions to the writing of this chapter. Writing of this chapter was made possible, in part, by a grant to Charles A. Nelson from the National Institutes of Health (No. MH078829); by an endowment created by Richard and Mary Scott to Charles A. Nelson; and by a fellowship from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation program for Health and Society Scholars to Margaret A. Sheridan.

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Nachmias, M., Gunnar, M., Mangelsdorf, S., Parritz, R. H., & Buss, K. (1996). Behavioral inhibition and stress reactivity: The moderating role of attachment security. Child Development, 67, 508–522. Naegele, J. R., & Lombroso, P. J. (2001). Genetics of central nervous system developmental disorders. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 10, 225–239. Nauta, W. J. H. (1971). The problem of the frontal lobe: A reinterpretation. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 8, 167–187. Nelson, C. A., & Bloom, F. E. (1997). Child development and neuroscience. Child Development, 68, 970–987. Nelson, C. A., & Carver, L. (1998). The effects of stress and trauma on brain and memory: A view from developmental cognitive neuroscience. ­Development and Psychopathology, 10, 793–809. Nelson, C. A., de Haan, M., & Thomas, K. M. (2006). Neuroscience and cognitive development: The role of experience and the developing brain. New York: Wiley. Nelson, C. A., Zeanah, C. H., Jr., & Fox, N. A. (2007). The effects of early deprivation on brain–­ behavioral development: The Bucharest Early Intervention Project. In D. Romer & E. Walker (Eds.), Adolescent psychopathology and the developing brain: Integrating brain and prevention science (pp.  197–215). New York: Oxford University Press. Pascalis, O., de Haan, M., & Nelson, C. A. (2002). Is face processing species specific during the first year of life? Science, 296, 1321–1323. Pascalis, O., Scott, L. S., Kelly, D. J., Dufour, R. W., Shannon, R. W., Nicholson, E., et al. (2005). Plasticity of face processing in infancy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102, 5297–5300. Rakic, P. (2002). Adult neurogenesis in mammals: An identity crisis. Journal of Neuroscience, 22, 614–618. Reznick, J. S., Kagan, J., Snidman, N., Gersten, M., Baak, K., & Rosenberg, A. (1986). Inhibited and uninhibited children: A follow-up study. Child Development, 57, 660–680. Sadato, N., Pascual-Leone, A., Grafman, J., Deiber, M., Ibanez, V., & Hallett, M. (1998). Neural networks for Braille reading by the blind. Brain, 121(7), 1213–1229. Schechter, D. S., Zeanah, C. H., Jr., Myers, M. M., Brunelli, S. A., Liebowitz, M. R., Marshall, R. D., et al. (2004). Psychobiological dysregulation in violence-­exposed mothers: Salivary cortisol of mothers with very young children pre- and post-­separation stress. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 68(4), 319–336. Soumi, S. J. (2006). Risk, resilience, and gene × environment interactions in rhesus monkeys. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1094(1), 52–62. Spangler, G., & Grossmann, K. E. (1993). Biobehavioral organization in securely and insecurely



attached infants. Child Development, 64(5), 1439–1450. Stansbury, K., & Gunnar, M. R. (1994). Adrenocortical activity and emotion regulation. In N. A. Fox (Ed.), Emotion regulation: Behavioral and biological considerations. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59(Serial No. 2–3), 108–134. Stein, M. B., Koverola, C., Hanna, C., Torchia, M. G., & McClarty, B. (1997). Hippocampal volume in women victimized by childhood sexual abuse. Psychological Medicine, 27, 951–959. Thanh Tu, M., Grunau, R., Petrie-­T homas, J., Haley, D., Weinberg, J., & Whitfield, M. (2007). Maternal stress and behavior modulate relationships between neonatal stress, attention, and basal cortisol at 8 months in preterm infants. Developmental Psychobiology, 49(2), 150–164. Thompson, L. A., & Trevathan, W. R. (2008). Cortisol reactivity, maternal sensitivity, and learning in 3-month-old infants. Infant Behavioral Development, 31(1), 92–106. Volpe, J. J. (2000). Overview: Normal and abnormal human brain development. Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 6, 1–5. Werker, J. F. (2006). Cognitive, perception and language. In W. Damon, R. Lerner, D. Kuhn, & R.

Siegler (Vol. Eds.), Handbook of child psychology (6th ed., Vol. 2, pp. 3–57). New Jersey: Wiley. Werker, J. F., & Vouloumanos, A. (2001) Speech and language processing in infancy: A neurocognitive approach. In C. A. Nelson & M. Luciana (Eds.), Handbook of developmental cognitive neuroscience (pp.  269–280). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Wheeler, R. E., Davidson, R. J., & Tomarken, A. J. (1993). Frontal brain asymmetry and emotional reactivity: A biological substrate of affective style. Psychophysiology, 30, 82–89. Wolkind, S. N., Zajicek-­Coleman, E., & Ghodsian, M. (1980). Continuities in maternal depression. International Journal of Family Psychiatry, 1, 167–182. Yakovlev, P. I., & LeCours, A.-R. (1967). The myelogenetic cycles of regional maturation of the brain. In A. Minkowski (Ed.), Regional development of the brain in early life (pp. 3–70). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Scientific. Zeanah, C. H., Jr., Nelson, C. A., Fox, N. A., Smyke, A. T., Marshall, P., Parker, S. W., et al. (2003). Designing research to study the effects of institutionalization on brain and behavioral development: The Bucharest Early Intervention Project. Development and Psychopathology, 15, 885–907.

Chapter 4

Neurobiology of Stress in Infancy Anne Rif kin-­Graboi Jessica L. Borelli Michelle Bosquet Enlow


nderstanding the impact and significance of stress during infancy, a developmental period particularly important to subsequent emotional, cognitive, and physical trajectories (e.g., Couperus & Nelson, 2006), is critical. Such an understanding will allow for better insight into individuals’ functioning—both during infancy and later life. For example, understanding the consequences of stress in infancy may help to explain why some older children and adults, with seemingly little recent exposure to trauma or even external stress, may present with “stress-­related” behavioral, cognitive, and emotional difficulties. To this end, this chapter focuses on four questions related to the neurobiology of stress reactivity and regulation, with particular emphasis on infancy. The first question to be addressed is how neural circuits respond to acute stress. Next, we contemplate the types of experiences that constitute stressors for infants and how infants respond to these experiences. Third, given that variation in stress responsivity has been documented repeatedly in the literature, we consider the roles of genetic factors in stress reactivity. Finally, the chapter more fully explores the question of how repeated and chronic exposure to stressors shapes

subsequent stress responsivity and development independent of genetic considerations.

RESPONSE OF NEURAL CIRCUITS TO ACUTE STRESS A number of peripheral and central nervous system regions are involved in responses to acute stressors, and both the degree of coordination between regions and the modulation of responses are often considered indices of health (Bauer, Quas, & Boyce, 2002). In infancy, as in adulthood, regions important to stress responsiveness are likely to include components of the two major divisions of the nervous system: the peripheral nervous system (i.e., cranial nerves, spinal nerves, and the autonomic nervous system) and the central nervous system (i.e., the brain and spinal cord). When infants encounter an external threat, information travels through the peripheral nervous system (PNS) that can lead to responses from a subcomponent of the PNS (i.e., the autonomic nervous system [ANS]) and/or responses from the central nervous system ([CNS], e.g., see Breedlove, Rosen­zweig, & Watston, 2007). In particular, three neurobiological responses to threats are especially likely: ANS sympathetic–­ 59



adrenal medulla activation; CNS amygdala– locus coeruleus activation; and CNS hypothalamic activation, which can directly lead to excitation of the hypothalamic–­pituitary–­ adrenocortical (HPA) axis. Normative development may influence functioning of these systems as well as the multiple neural structures and neurotransmitters that lead to their activation and inhibition.

Developmental Influences on Stress Responsivity Though similar neuroanatomical regions are likely involved in infant and adult stress responsivity, coordination and modulation of the regions may differ by developmental stage. This difference is partly because coordination is subject to environmental influence, with much work suggesting that in young mammals coordination is initially shaped by caregiving. In rodents, research indicates that mothers may serve as “regulators,” with maternal care and contact influencing the regulation of states (e.g., body temperature) that are essential to life, and which may be influenced by separation and stress (Hofer, 2006). Likewise, in humans, findings indicate that the acquisition of the ability to regulate stress is a developmental process that progresses from complete dependence on the caregiver for regulation in the neonatal period to dyadic regulation in infancy to self-­regulation by the preschool years, with more sensitive caregiving supporting the development of more optimal stress regulation abilities (Gunnar & Donzella, 2002; Sroufe, Egeland, Carlson, & Collins, 2005). In addition, the degree of response, as well as the type of response may be influenced not only by properties of the threat itself, but also by the meaning the individual attributes to the stimulus, which in turn may be influenced by his or her previous experiences (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). On the whole, infants have relatively short histories of stressful experiences; therefore, to a certain degree, stress reactivity in the neonatal period is likely driven more by evolutionarily based predispositions and other individual characteristics of the infant (e.g., temperament) than previous experiences with stressors, whereas later in development the influence of past experiences may be greater.

Furthermore, modulation by regions associated with meaning making via memory (e.g., the hippocampus), fear learning (e.g., the amygdala), and reasoning (e.g., the prefrontal cortex) may also differ for neuroanatomical reasons. That is, regions associated with these processes continue to develop into adolescence and even adulthood (reviewed in Toga, Thompson, & Sowell, 2006). Likewise, many such regions are affected by gonadal (e.g., testosterone) and adipose (e.g., leptin) hormones (e.g., Herman et al., 2003; Walf & Frye, 2006), and levels of these hormones vary by developmental stage. Finally, normative changes in developmental neurobiology are especially important to the HPA system, a critical system involved in stress reactivity. Shortly after birth, the HPA axis is highly reactive, meaning that HPA responses can be stimulated easily (Gunnar, Conners, & Isensee, 1989). During later infancy, individuals undergo a period of HPA hyporesponsivity, signifying that only small HPA responses to stimuli occur. In human infants, this dampening of the HPA system has been found to begin as early as the second month of life (Lewis & Ramsay, 1995) and to extend until the second year (e.g., Gunnar, Brodersen, Krueger, & Rigatuso, 1996). Thus, a failure to show increases in cortisol in response to stress during this hyporesponsive phase may reflect inflexibility of the HPA system at that point in development.

ANS Sympathetic Nervous System Responses to Stress As noted, one expectable reaction to stress is engagement of the ANS. In some cases, the parasympathetic division may respond via the vagus nerve to reduce arousal (e.g., slow heart rate; see Porges, 2003). More frequently, however, another aspect of the ANS—the sympathetic–­adrenomedullary system (SAM)—increases arousal via the peripheral release of hormones. In particular, the sympathetic nervous system can signal the adrenal medulla to release norepinephrine [NE] and epinephrine [EPI]). Because of the effects of these hormones, SAM is often considered the arbiter of the fight or flight response to stress: These hormones increase respiration, cardiovascular tone, and blood flow to skeletal muscles while simultane-

4. Neurobiology of Stress in Infancy

ously inhibiting vegetative functions (e.g., digestion). The ANS also interacts with the other two systems frequently involved in responses to stress (i.e., the locus coeruleus–­amygdala system and the HPA axis). Peripherally released EPI and NE can signal bodily states via the PNS, which can result in changes in CNS activity (see reviews in Ellis, Jackson, & Boyce, 2006; Porges, 2003; Tsigos & Chrousos, 2002). Likewise, CNS areas such as the hypothalamus and brainstem affect the sympathetic nervous system (SNS; Diamond, Scheibel, & Elson, 1985).

CNS Locus Coeruleus–­Amygdala Activity Central NE is released by an area of the brainstem termed the locus coeruleus. Stressors can lead to an increase in locus coeruleus activity, which can then increase the firing rate of corticotropin-­releasing factor (CRF) neurons in the amygdala (see reviews in Ellis et al., 2006; Porges, 2003; Tsigos & Chrousos, 2002). These CRF neurons, in turn, can increase the firing rate of locus coeruleus NE neurons, creating a positive feedback loop between the locus coeruleus and the amygdala. The locus coeruleus–­amygdala loop can affect HPA activity. For example, the locus coeruleus influences the prefrontal cortex, which can indirectly modulate HPA activity. In addition, once excited, the amygdala may increase HPA activity by inhibiting the inhibitory influence of gamma-­aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurons of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis on the hypothalamus (Herman et al., 2003).

HPA Axis Functioning


(5-HT) released by the raphe’ nucleus; possibly CRF from the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis; glutamate from other areas of the hypothalamus; possibly dopamine (DA) from the thalamus; and through blood or cerebrospinal fluid components (e.g., immune factors and hormones) (reviewed in Herman et al., 2003; also see Figure 4.1). In addition, other regions may indirectly signal the hypothalamus when they respond to “anticipatory stress” (e.g., situations that, if left unchecked, could lead to reactive stress; e.g., encountering predators, aggressive conspecifics, and dangerous environments). Indirect input can also involve the hippocampus and frontal cortex. Interestingly, these areas typically, but not always, limit stress responsivity. For example, the hippocampus, which itself receives input from a number of areas, can modulate PVN activity via “direct” inhibitory regions. As another example, the prefrontal cortex, which receives input from a variety of areas, including the locus coeruleus, raphe nucleus, and thalamus, as well as dopaminergic regions, can indirectly modulate PVN activity via excitation of inhibitory regions and activating regions. Not surprisingly, there is much cross-talk between many of the “anticipatory” areas. In addition to its influence on the amygdala, the prefrontal cortex also interacts with the hippocampus (Herman et al., 2003; Lovallo & Thomas, 2000; also see Figure 4.1). Finally, many of the regions important to PVN activation are influenced by adrenal hormones such as cortisol, which is an end product of HPA activation. Depending on the structure involved, cortisol either increases or decreases hypothalamic activity.

Influences on the Hypothalamus

Hypothalamic Influences on the Pituitary and Adrenals

The amygdala and the prefrontal cortex are not the only regions able to influence the region of the hypothalamus (i.e., the paraventricular nucleus [PVN]) essential to HPA activity. “Direct” signals to the PVN occur in response to “reactive stress” (i.e., situations that cause bodily changes, such as pain, toxins, and cardiovascular alterations). Direct activation of PVN neurons occurs in a variety of ways, including via NE and EPI released by the nucleus of the solitary tract; serotonin

The release of CRF from PVN hypothalamic neurons is often considered the direct starting point of HPA axis activity. When CRF is released and occupies receptors within the anterior pituitary, a polypeptide termed pro­opiomelanocortin (POMC) is released. This large peptide is cleaved into smaller peptides, including adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). In response to ACTH, the adrenals release steroid hormones—­corticosteroids, including mineralocorticoids (e.g., aldoster-






Prefrontal Cortex*

Other Inhibiting Areas


Locus Ceruleus (NE)

Amygdala* (CRF, also GABA)

Other Potentiating Areas

Prefrontal Cortex*

Raphe’s Nucleus


Amygdala* (CRF, also GABA)

Other Potentiating Areas

Other Inhibiting Areas



Adrenals (GC’s, eg., CORT)

PVN of the Hypothalamus (CRF)

HPA Axis

HPA Axis

PVN of the Hypothalamus (CRF)

Pituitary (ACTH)


Pituitary (ACTH)

Adrenals (GC’s, eg., CORT)

FIGURE 4.1.  A partial representation of circuitry influencing (A) and influenced by (B) hypothalamic–­ pituitary–­adrenal (HPA) axis activity. Pathways may be inhibitory or excitatory. The HPA axis is depicted in gray circles. Neurotransmitters and hormones in parentheses include: ACTH, adrenocorticotropic hormone; NE, noradrenaline; CORT, cortisol; CRF, corticotropin-releasing hormone; 5-HT, serotonin; GABA, gamma-­aminobutyric acid; GC, glucocorticoid. *There is much cross-talk between areas such as the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala.

one) and glucocorticoids (e.g., corticosterone in rats and cortisol in humans), as well as some sex steroids; however, of the steroid hormones, the glucocorticoid response is greatest. Extensive research with infants and adults has provided important data about the functioning of the HPA axis in response to stress. Data suggest that the peak glucocorticoid response to an acute stressor typically is evident in saliva within 20 minutes of stressor onset, though there is individual variation in peak response times, ranging from 15 to 30+ minutes (Ramsay & Lewis, 2003). In addition, studies have shown cortisol reactivity to be constrained by the diurnal variation of the system. In addition to being responsive to the environment, HPA activity follows a daily rhythm. In general, cortisol levels are lowest in the evening and rise

within 45 minutes of waking. After their initial morning peak, cortisol levels are expected to decline rather sharply, and as the day progresses, continue to decline, though at a lesser rate.

Glucocorticoid Influence on Neural Receptors After release, cortisol may bind to a protein (cortisol binding globulin), and only the unbound (i.e., “free”) form of cortisol is able to interact with receptors and thus exert an effect through them. Free cortisol is able to bind to two forms of corticosteroid receptors: mineralocorticoid and glucocorticoid receptors. Both types of receptors are present in the brain, but they may serve different functions and are differentially expressed; fewer neural regions express mineralocorticoid receptors as compared to glucocorticoid

4. Neurobiology of Stress in Infancy

receptors (de Kloet & Reul, 1987). Glucocorticoids have a higher affinity for mineralocorticoid receptors than they do for their “own” glucocorticoid receptors. Therefore, when only small amounts of glucocorticoids are available, the majority of glucocorticoid receptors are not occupied, but when HPA activity is high, more glucocorticoid receptors become occupied (reviewed in de Kloet, Oitzl, & Joels, 1999). The ratio between mineralocorticoid and glucocorticoid receptor occupation may influence pre- and poststress functioning in psychological, cognitive, behavioral, and biological domains. For example, mineralocorticoid occupation aids in memory formation and immune function, whereas glucocorticoid receptor activation leads to decreases in some memory abilities and immune suppression (Sapolsky, Romero, & Munck, 2000). Because daily rhythms lead to higher levels of circulating glucocorticoids at specific times of day, and hence, a likely greater degree of mineralocorticoid occupation at different times of day, acute responses to stress may also vary by time of day. That is, an identical stressor administered to the same individual in the morning (when glucocorticoid levels are comparatively high) should have different outcomes than when delivered in the afternoon (when glucocorticoid levels are comparatively low), since it will lead to  differential ratios of mineralocorticoid­to-­glucocorticoid occupation and hence different receptor-­mediated results.

Glucocorticoids and Feedback Loops Glucocorticoids may act via these corticosteroid receptors to increase or decrease further CRF and, consequently, HPA activity. For example, acting on receptors in the amygdala, glucocorticoids can exert positive feedback and increase hypothalamic CRF activity. Glucocorticoids may also act on neuronal receptors in the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and hypothalamus to limit further hypothalamic CRF activity (Herman, Ostrander, Mueller, & Figueiredo, 2005; also see Figure 4.2). Therefore, alterations in the expression and function of both types of corticosteroid receptors, as well as alterations in the degree of pituitary and adrenal activity, can contribute to the con-


tinuation versus cessation of HPA activity. This finding is relevant because, as discussed below, chronic exposure to stress hormones and neurotransmitters may disrupt these feedback mechanisms, leading to system dysregulation and impeding individuals’ abilities to curtail subsequent responses to acute stress.

Adaptive Value of HPA Activity In addition to affecting memory and immune functioning, glucocorticoids may both complement and limit the effects of quicker­acting neurobiological responses to stress (i.e., increases in CRF, EPI, and/or NE). For example, glucocorticoids can work with CRF, EPI, and/or NE to increase heart rate and energy (i.e., glucose) availability, but work against the anorextic effects of CRF to increase appetite, especially for carbohydrates (reviewed in Sapolsky et al., 2000). Overall, glucocorticoid effects on cognitive and physical processes are considered to have an adaptive value in that they promote survival in times of threat (Sapolsky et al., 2000). In essence, Sapolsky (2004) suggests that in such times, an individual is best served by shunting the majority of his or her energy to the areas of the body and brain that will aid in immediate survival. Therefore, glucose should be directed to muscles to aid in flight or fight and to brain areas directed at attending to the threat, rather than remembering extraneous cues (see also Lupien et al., 2006). Likewise, in times of immediate alarm, he argues, it makes evolutionary sense to shut down systems involved in growth and reproduction until less energy is needed to respond to danger.

STRESSFUL EXPERIENCES/ RESPONSES IN INFANCY Defining Stress A number of opinions concerning the nature of stress have been offered throughout the years (e.g., Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Mason, 1968; Selye, 1956). Following, among others, John Bowlby (e.g., 1969) and Michael Meaney and colleagues (e.g., Cameron et al., 2005), we adopt a broad, phylogenetically based perspective on the types of situations that constitute stress. That is,



Working Definition of Stress: Stimuli Indicating an Immediate (A) or Eventual (B & C) Threat to Survival

B. Examples of Situations that Increase the Likelihood of Experiencing an Immediate Threat in Humans Darkness Loss of Group Membership Low Status Infant Separation From Parent Maternal Unavailability (e.g., via rejection, withdrawal in times of danger)

A. Examples of Immediate Threats Predation/ Violence Starvation Natural Disaster

C. Cues that are Closely Tied to A and/or B in Humans


“Low Energy” Behavioral Strategy Is Insufficient to Overcome

HPA Activation

(in some cases)

Social Rejection Feelings of Shame and Lack of Control

SNS Activity

Lack of Optimal Maternal Care (not only withdrawal and rejection but also, e.g., a lack of sensitivity and instrusiveness)

FIGURE 4.2.  A schematic presentation of our working definition of stress. Immediate and eventual threats at the individual or species level are considered “stressors” that may result in behavioral and/ or endocrine responses.

we not only consider immediate threats but also situations and cues that were likely to have been tied to such events within a species’ evolutionary history (see Figure 4.2). Thus, we arrive at three categories of potential stressors: immediate threats, impending threats, and cues reliably tied to threats. Acknowledging the importance of an evolutionary perspective is also in keeping with findings from a recent meta-­analysis and review paper by Dickerson and Kemeny (2004), who demonstrated that an evolutionary-based hypothesis was able to explain why some laboratory paradigms more reliably result in HPA activity than do others. They argued that as social primates, we are (1) dependent on group membership for survival and reproduction; (2) primed to be keenly aware of feelings that frequently occur in conjunction with threats to group membership (e.g., rejection) and status (e.g., failure; see also Sapolsky, 1990, 2004); and,

furthermore, (3) that when we anticipate or feel rejection and/or failure, we may also anticipate needing additional energy (e.g., glucose via cortisol) to rectify the situation. As expected, they found that laboratory situations containing the potential for social rejection and a loss of status reliably led to increases in cortisol in adult humans across a number of studies. Likewise, others have similarly cited a lack of controllability as a cause for HPA activation in infancy and early childhood (e.g., Lewis & Ramsay, 2005; Luby et al., 2003).

Immediate Threats and Their Consequences Natural Disasters and Other Extreme Events Though natural disasters can be considered immediate threats to survival, studying responses to such natural disasters at the mo-

4. Neurobiology of Stress in Infancy

ment they first occur is exceedingly difficult. On a behavioral level, it may be expected that, as with many other stressors, human infants are predisposed to search out their primary caregivers (Bowlby, 1969; Suomi, 1999). This expectation is based on the idea that human infants are comparatively helpless and that parental protection affords them an increased chance of survival. In other words, in response to threats, infants may be predisposed to respond with what McEwen and colleagues (e.g., Lupien et al., 2006) might term a lower-cost behavioral strategy—­namely, searching out their mothers—­although in initial encounters with extreme situations, higher-cost endocrine responses (e.g., increased catecholamines and CRF) might still be expected (e.g., Heim, Newport, et al., 2000). Because infants are so dependent on their caregivers for modulation of their stress reactions, infants’ responses to extreme situations of trauma are highly influenced by their caregivers’ responses. A caregiver’s own traumatic stress responses may impede his or her ability to provide sensitive care and, consequently, manage the infant’s distress. A high co-­occurrence of trauma symptoms in parents and very young children following a shared trauma (“relational PTSD”) has been noted and attributed to the impact of poor parental regulation (e.g., withdrawal; overprotection) on the child’s ability to self-­regulate, particularly during a period of development when the child is especially dependent on the parent for regulation (Bogat, DeJonghe, Levendosky, Davidson, & von Eye, 2006; Scheeringa & Zeanah, 2001). In such situations, higher-cost endocrine responses may be especially likely, and may be expected to have ramifications well past the cessation of the traumatic experience.

Abuse In addition, higher-cost endocrine responses might also be expected in situations where the parent is the source of the threat. Like natural disasters, abuse can be considered an immediate threat to survival. However, in response to abuse, a behavioral predisposition for approach is unlikely to lead to the cessation of threat since the parent is also the source of the threat. Thus, highercost endocrine alternatives may be likely, as


the lower cost approach strategy increases, rather than decreases, the threat. This idea is in keeping with those expressed by attachment researchers who consider infants’ “disorganized attachment behaviors” to be the product of a paradox created when a parent is frightening. Namely, they propose that infants are influenced by competing predispositions: the drive to flee the source of fear (i.e., the frightening parent) and the drive to approach the parent for protection (Main & Hesse, 1990). Indeed, infants of maltreating parents often exhibit disorganized behavior, which can include displays of both approach and avoidance (van IJzendoorn, Schuengel, & Bakermans-­K ranenburg, 1999). In addition, disorganized infants have been found to show prolonged endocrine responses to mild stress, perhaps indicating a lack of lower-cost behavioral alternatives (Spangler & Grossmann, 1993).

Impending Threats and Their Consequences As with immediate threats, in the face of impending threats infants may be predisposed to search out their primary caregivers (Bowlby, 1969). Bowlby suggested that a variety of stimuli may serve as cues for impending threats or “natural cues to danger” for human infants because, within our evolutionary history, they were associated with precarious circumstances, such as increased likeliness of predation. Examples of situations that may indicate impending threats include novelty, stranger approach, and separation from the caregiver.

Environmental Novelty Bowlby suggested that one natural cue to danger is environmental novelty. Interestingly, Ahnert and colleagues (Ahnert, Gunnar, Lamb, & Barthel, 2004) have recently observed increases in cortisol during an “adaptation to preschool” phase, when young children are exposed to their classroom in the presence of their caregiver, as compared to what is observed in the familiar home environment. The authors suggest that these significant increases may have been due to exposure to a novel environment, along with the challenges of forming new social relationships.



Stranger Approach Bowlby also suggested that stranger approach is a natural cue to danger. When examining 24-month-olds’ responses to this threat, Buss and colleagues (Buss, Davidson, Kalin, & Goldsmith, 2004) reported that toddlers who were free to approach their mothers showed less incidence of behaviors associated with HPA activation (i.e., freezing and fear behavior; see Gunnar & Vazquez, 2006) than did children who were prevented from doing so via physical restraint.

Separation Bowlby additionally proposed that separation from the primary caregiver, especially during novel circumstances, may serve as a natural cue to danger for human infants for multiple reasons. For example, separation may signal impending danger because, throughout ground-­living primate evolution, separation could result in starvation, an inability to escape from predation, and other such threats. During relatively short separations, the HPA response may be mitigated by the infant’s ability to find lower-cost solutions. For example, Gunnar and Nelson (1994) found that, in response to maternal separation, cortisol did not increase among 1-yearolds who took advantage of the opportunity to interact with a babysitter, whereas it did increase among infants who withdrew and even among infants who fell asleep (Gunnar, Larson, Hertsgaard, Harris, & Brodersen, 1992). Because low-cost behavioral strategies during long-term separation may be limited (i.e., during separation infants cannot approach their parents), increases in endocrine activity may be expected. In fact, human and nonhuman primate infants are frequently found to respond to maternal separation with increases in HPA activation (reviewed in Gunnar, Brodersen, Field, McCabe, & Schneiderman, 1992). For example, during the transition to day care, a form of parent–­infant separation, research finds that many infants and preschoolers (Dettling, Parker, Lane, Sebanc, & Gunnar, 2000; Tout, de Haan, Campbell, & Gunnar, 1998; Watamura, Donzella, Alwin, & Gunnar, 2003, but see de Haan, Gunnar, Tout,

Hart, & Stansbury, 1998) exhibit higher cortisol levels throughout the day. In fact, one recent study (Ahnert et al., 2004) of seventy 15-month-olds reported that, compared to home levels, there was a 75–100% increase in cortisol levels during the first 2 weeks children were left at day care without their mothers. Furthermore, they found that cortisol levels during these prolonged separations were substantially higher than those observed during the “adaptation to day care” phase. These findings suggest that, at least for some infants, lower-cost strategies may have been available when the only salient threats were environmental novelty and the potential for social rejection, as opposed to what occurred during the transition phase, when the maternal separation threat also existed.

Cues Tied to Immediate/ Impending Threats As noted, feelings of uncontrollability and failure may serve as stressors because they are likely closely tied to a loss of group membership and/or the likelihood of social rejection (Dickerson & Kemeny, 2004). Similarly, other cues may be closely tied to immediate and/or impending threats in infancy. Considering the importance of parents to the protection of infants, parental unavailability, rejection, and neglect may all be closely linked to poor chances of surviving environmental threats, should they occur. In addition, throughout our species’ history, changes in forms of parental care, such as increases in neglect and intrusiveness, may have often indicated that the developing infant will likely face a harsh environment, including an increased likelihood of experiencing immediate environmental threats, such as predation, abandonment, violence, and malnourishment (see Cameron et al., 2005).

Parental Unavailability, Rejection, and Neglect Consistent with Bowlby’s idea that an infant’s best chance of survival during times of danger is to seek out a haven of safety or “attachment figure,” certain forms of nonoptimal parenting (e.g., rejection, neglect, withdrawal) may suggest a decreased chance of surviving because they may be indicative

4. Neurobiology of Stress in Infancy

of a lack of parental availability during times of threat (see, for e.g., Bugental, Martorell, & Barraza, 2003, for work on unavailability, harsh parenting, and basal and reactive cortisol). In an experimental simulation of the effect of maternal depression on infant behavior, Cohn and Tronick (1983) found that when mothers became facially noninteractive during a face-to-face interaction with their 3-month-olds, infants reacted by appearing agitated and wary—a posture that remained even after mothers began interacting with their infants again. Additionally, others (Haley & Stansbury, 2003) have found that when mothers and their 5- to 6-month-old infants take part in this StillFace Paradigm, infants show a rise in cortisol and in heart rate. These findings suggest that parental emotional unavailability may be a threat for which infants do not have a low-cost behavioral response.

Other Forms of Nonoptimal Care As discussed by Meaney and colleagues (e.g., Cameron et al., 2005) and reviewed in this section, other forms of nonoptimal parenting behavior, such as nonresponsiveness, intrusiveness, hostility, or overcontrolling behavior, may be considered stressors because they serve as signals that are closely tied to the likelihood of experiencing threats as part of daily life. Likewise, though exhibited forms of behaviors differ across species, relations between the patterning of parenting behavior and environmental circumstance have been observed in a variety of species. In monkeys, developmentally inappropriate increases in mother–­offspring contact are associated with both low rank (briefly reviewed in Nicolson, 1987) and forced separation (e.g., Sanchez et al., 2005). In humans, nonoptimal maternal behavior (e.g., Klebanov, Brooks-Gunn, & Duncan, 1994) is associated with riskier (e.g., impoverished, violent) environments, and in fact, lower socioeconomic status is linked to higher basal cortisol levels in infancy (Wailoo et al., 2003). In addition, both insecure attachment and maternal depression are associated with nonoptimal parenting (e.g., Field, Hernandez-Reif, & Diego, 2006; Madigan et al., 2006; van IJzendoorn, 1995), as well as riskier environments (Cutrona, Wallace, &


Wesner, 2006; Fish, 2004). Thus, it may not be surprising that maternal depression is associated with concurrent increases in basal cortisol (Field, Healy, Goldstein, & Perry, 1988), and that infants of depressed mothers who show comparatively high rates of intrusive behaviors show higher levels of NE, EPI, and DA at 6 months (Jones et al., 1997).

INDIVIDUAL/GENETIC INFLUENCES ON STRESS RESPONSES Despite the usefulness of thinking about species-wide cues to danger, it is impossible to ignore data demonstrating that individuals vary in the degree to which they perceive and/or respond to threats. In some cases, significant mismatches between HPA activity and context (e.g., extremely low activity during situations that would make most people anxious) may be a source for concern and/or predictive of other neurobiological functions (Buss et al., 2004; Keenan, Gunthorpe, & Grace, 2007). Prenatal influences (Field, Diego, & Hernandez-Reif, 2006; Rieger et al., 2004; Wadhwa, 2005; Yehuda et al., 2005), gender (Sanchez et al., 2005; Stroud, Salovey, & Epel, 2002), and clinical status (e.g., reviewed in Gunnar & Vazquez, 2006) may all influence individual variation in stress responsivity. In addition, it is becoming increasingly clear that genetics can influence resting states important to HPA responses, acute stress responses, and outcomes associated with chronic stress. Some of the inspiration for this realization comes from work with candidate genes relevant to the neuronal circuitry described above. Furthermore, associations in early life between chronic stress and hypocortisolemia—­lowered HPA basal functioning and lowered HPA reactivity—are also an impetus for these considerations.

Candidate Genes and Stress Responsivity Catecholamines As noted above, the catecholamine NE, as well as other catecholamines such as EPI and DA, may all directly and indirectly contribute to CRF release and thereby be



especially important to biological responses to stress. Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) is important to the breakdown of catecholamines, and variation in the COMT gene has recently been found linked to plasma EPI responses to psychosocial stressors in adults (Jabbi et al., 2007). Although we are not aware of similar research with COMT in children, attachment researchers have begun examining the effects of genetically based differences in dopaminergic functioning on children’s responses to brief laboratory separations from their caregivers. Here, less functional forms of a DA receptor have been related to “disorganized” responses to separation (e.g., Lakatos et al., 2002; but see Bakermans-­K ranenburg & van IJzendoorn, 2004), which have themselves been linked to increased cortisol levels (Hertsgaard, Gunnar, Erickson, & Nachmias, 1995; Spangler & Grossmann, 1993; but see Spangler & Schieche, 1998). Interestingly, new research further suggests that this same DA receptor mutation may allow infants to be increasingly receptive to environmental influences, which may shape their responses to separation (van IJzendoorn & Bakermans­K ranenburg, 2006).

Serotonin Serotonin functioning may influence the development of brain structures important to stress responsivity (e.g., reviewed in Korte, Koolhaas, Wingfield, & McEwen, 2005). In addition, it is also important, in an immediate sense, to the release of CRF in a wide variety of ways. It can, for example, impact areas that are associated with the release of CRF, such as the amygdala and hypothalamus, and it can also impact areas such as the hippocampus, which tend to inhibit CRF release. Variants of genes implicated in serotonergic functioning have been found to be directly, and in interaction with environmental influences, related to suicidality and/ or depression (Caspi et al., 2003; Lemonde et al., 2003), the latter of which is often associated with chronic life stress (Goodman, 2002). With regard to the HPA axis, in particular, genetic variation thought to eventually result in lower serotonin levels has been linked to increased HPA reactivity and aggression in young monkeys who experienced

early deprivation (reviewed in Suomi, 2006). Findings such as these have led to suggestions that different genetic predispositions may result in susceptibilities to fright versus fight responses (Korte et al., 2005), as well as differential vulnerabilities for fright behavior (Ellis, Jackson, & Boyce, 2006) and differential vulnerabilities for fight-and­fright behavior in response to threat (Suomi, 2006).

Gamma-­Aminobutyric Acid As also noted above, GABA can exert important inhibitory effects on the activation of the hypothalamus, and it can inhibit inhibitors of hypothalamic activity. Thus, genetic alterations that influence GABA may also impact stress responsivity. Although to our knowledge, no investigation of GABA receptor gene variants in human infants has yet occurred, associations between GABA polymorphisms and HPA activity in adults have been reported (e.g., Uhart, McCaul, Oswald, Choi, & Wand, 2004).

Corticotropin-­Releasing Factor CRF is an especially important neurotransmitter for both the locus coeruleus–­ amygdala and the HPA responses to stress. Interestingly, recent findings suggest that a CRF haplotype (set of genetic variants) is linked to behavioral inhibition (Smoller et al., 2005), a construct long thought to have a genetic component and known to influence infants’ HPA responses to separation (e.g., Nachmias, Gunnar, Mangelsdorf, & Parritz, 1996). For example, children in the clinical range of internalizing symptoms tend to have higher basal cortisol (Kagan, Reznick, & Snidman, 1987). Shyness and internalizing distress in boys (Dettling, Gunnar, & Donzella, 1999; Tout et al., 1998) and social fearfulness (Watamura et al., 2003) in boys and girls have been found related to greater increases in cortisol across the day (see Vermeer & van IJzendoorn, 2006, for a meta­analysis on cortisol and day care). In contrast, however, research with 15-month-olds suggests that behaviors typically not expected among inhibited children, such as anger proneness (van Bakel & Riksen-­Walraven, 2002), poor self-­control, and aggression, are linked to heightened cortisol (Dettling et al.,

4. Neurobiology of Stress in Infancy

1999). Still, these results may not be at odds with one another: Recent research suggests that inhibition, as compared to surgency, is associated with increased cortisol responsivity when aggression is first taken into account (Gunnar, Sebanc, Tout, Donzella, & van Dulmen, 2003). Although the functional significance of the implicated CRF haplotype is not known, Smoller and colleagues (2005) speculate that it could contribute to greater CRF release and increased anxiety via increased activation of the amygdala as well as disruption of serotonin’s effects within the hippocampus.

Corticosteroid Receptors Glucocorticoids, an “end product” of the HPA axis, may also affect HPA activity and reactivity via feedback loops. That is, glucocorticoids can act through corticosteroid receptors to either increase or decrease subsequent HPA responses. Genetic variation in corticosteroid receptors has been found related to basal (nonstress) cortisol levels (e.g., Rosmond et al., 2000).

Genetic Variation and HPA Functioning When stress produces an HPA response, it should lead to increased (and not decreased) HPA activity followed by cessation due to negative feedback. However, because chronic exposure to stress hormones and neurotransmitters can impair negative feedback processes, when stressors are continual, hypercortisolemia (i.e., increases in nonstress cortisol levels and accompanying increased HPA responsiveness) is generally expected. Nevertheless, the body may continue to adapt and eventually there may be a down-­regulation of, for example, adrenal receptors, leading to hypocortisolemia. This down-­regulation is generally believed to occur after prolonged exposure, and only after the trauma has passed (Heim, Ehlert, & Hellhammer, 2000). Still, why do we find hypocortisolism in infants and very young children exposed to conditions such as institutionalized rearing, maltreatment, maternal insensitivity, or natural disasters (reviewed by Gunnar & Vazquez, 2006)? The stressors (e.g., institutionalization) may be ongoing, and, even when the stressors have ceased, compara-


tively little time has passed since stressor onset. In addition, as in adulthood, hyperversus hypocortisolemia may be influenced by concurrent psychopathology or personality factors. Furthermore, in developmental research, internalizing disorders tend to be associated with hypercortisolemia whereas externalizing disorders tend to be associated with hypocortisolemia, though both conditions may be associated with past adversity. Thus, these findings suggest the importance of considering genetic susceptibilities to baseline as well as reactive HPA activity.

Susceptibilities for “Fight” versus “Fright” One explanation for basal and reactive differences in HPA functioning involves differential susceptibilities for “fight” versus “fright” behavior. Korte and colleagues (2005) have suggested that genes contribute to two types of personalities: “hawks” and “doves.” Hawks are thought to have higher levels of gonadal (e.g., testicular) hormones and lower levels of serotonin than do doves. Accordingly, hawks are also more likely to have lower levels of circulating corticosteroids, which fits with the idea that serotonin influences hypothalamic CRF. Therefore, even during normative circumstances, hawks should have lower levels of occupied mineralocorticoid receptors than do doves. Thus, the first time hawks encounter danger, they are not expected to engage in freezing behavior because this such a stance requires mineralocorticoid receptors to be nearly fully occupied. However, during such encounters, central and peripheral NE (and peripheral EPI) may substantially increase, but a large degree of HPA responsivity is not expected. Because glucocorticoids have higher affinities for mineralocorticoid receptors than glucocorticoid receptors, it is implied that such mild HPA reactivity may allow only for increased occupation of ­mineralocorticoid receptors, but still little occupation of glucocorticoid receptors. Therefore, glucocorticoid-­receptor-­mediated behaviors, such as fear conditioning, are unlikely to occur, but mineralocorticoid­mediated behaviors are likely. For example, in the presence of high levels of gonadal hormones, increased occupation of mineralocorticoid receptors is expected to permit



“fight” behavior, and, in fact, aggressivity is an expected reaction among individuals who are comparatively low in 5-HT when they experience acute increases in 5-HT (as occurs during stress). Furthermore, with chronic stress, hawks may become excessively aggressive (e.g., display externalizing disorders) and suffer from states associated with chronic sympathetic ANS activity (e.g., sudden cardiac death, atypical depression). In contrast, because doves are considered to have increased basal serotonin functioning, they may experience increased hippocampal growth, and, given this structure’s relation to memory formation, engage in deeper exploration. However, because of the higher levels of basal glucocorticoids in doves as compared to hawks, doves’ mineralocorticoids may be more fully occupied at the moment they encounter stress. This full occupation is suggested to allow doves to freeze the first time they encounter danger. Furthermore, it is implied that, partly because of higher 5-HT, doves may also respond to danger with comparatively greater HPA activity. Therefore, glucocorticoid receptors may also become occupied in times of stress to facilitate fear conditioning. Consequently, when a dove next encounters similar environmental circumstances, even when danger is not present, he or she may freeze. In addition, in the face of chronic stress, doves are likely to experience higher glucocorticoid levels that may eventually down-­regulate corticosteroid receptors and accordingly prevent negative feedback. Thus, the hypothalamus may not receive “negative feedback,” and the stress response may continue for too long. Eventually, prolonged CRF activity may lead to hyperactivity of the amygdala, decreases in hippocampal and prefrontal functioning, and associated increases in major depression. Hippocampal dendritic remodeling (a potentially reversible change in dendritic length and branching) as well as neuronal apoptosis (cell death) may also occur. Recalling the influences of the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, these changes may further inhibit negative feedback from a neurobiological perspective. In addition, because of the hippocampal and frontal contributions to higher-order processing, alterations in these structures may also lead to increasing difficulties in memory and complex reasoning.

Thus, Korte and colleagues’ (2005) model may explain why some “hawk” children (e.g., those higher on externalizing disorders) living in chronically stressful situations exhibit lower basal cortisol and reactivity, whereas “dove” children (e.g., those higher on internalizing disorders) living in chronically stressful situations tend to exhibit higher basal cortisol and cortisol reactivity. Extending from Korte and colleagues’ (2005) model, among genetically predisposed hawks (who accordingly began life with a predisposition for lower HPA activity), ongoing chronic stress is likely to lead to externalizing behavior, but not a noticeable up-­regulation of HPA activity; among genetically predisposed doves (who accordingly began life with a predisposition for higher HPA activity), ongoing chronic stress is likely to, at least initially, up-­regulate HPA activity and result in hypercortisolemia and internalizing behaviors.

Susceptibilities for Fright (and Fight) A line of related and intriguing arguments has been put forth by Boyce and colleagues (Boyce & Ellis, 2005; Ellis et al., 2006). Drawing on Korte and colleagues (2005), Boyce et al. also suggest that there are “hawks” and “doves” and that each strategy of stress regulation has its own costs and benefits. However, whereas Korte and colleagues suggest that the two genetic profiles lead to two different responses to stress, Boyce and colleagues suggest that some individuals are more responsive to environments than are others, and that more environmentally responsive individuals are likely to suffer “dove-like” behavioral consequences of stress as well as positive consequences of extremely nurturant environments (see also Suomi, 2006). They further suggest that being a “hawk” may only be optimal in chronically moderately (but not severely) stressful environments. Boyce and colleagues (Boyce & Ellis, 2005; Ellis et al., 2006) also suggest that apparent conflicts in studies reporting associations between HPA activity level and optimal outcomes may be due to differences in the risk characteristics of samples. For example, when children are drawn from relatively low-risk groups (i.e., encompassing both chronically moderately stressful and

4. Neurobiology of Stress in Infancy

highly nurturing backgrounds), higher reactivity may appear to be associated with more positive outcomes (e.g., less externalizing behavior). Conversely, when children from high-risk groups are compared to children from moderately stressful groups, higher reactivity may be associated with relatively worse outcomes, such as increased anxiety and depression.

The Influence of Past Experience Certainly not all encounters with stressors represent first-time occurrences. When stress is repeated and/or chronic, individuals may respond quite differently to subsequent stress than they did during initial encounters. In fact, repeated and chronic stress may shape the likelihood of both low-cost (behavioral) and higher-cost (endocrine) responses, via alterations in psychological strategies and interpretations of threats, changes in neural circuitry, and alterations in neuroanatomy. Furthermore, these effects may interact with one another. For example, neurobiological changes may alter structures important to cognition and psychological coping. Over time, these effects may influence not only psychological functioning and stress reactivity but also physical health. Fortunately, new research is beginning to demonstrate the potential benefit of interventions on psychological as well as biological changes that result from stress in young children (e.g., Dozier, Peloso, et al., 2006).

Psychological Strategies and Interpretations of Threats Clinicians and researchers from various theoretical perspectives emphasize the role of past experiences on an individual’s interpretation of, and reaction to, acute stressors (e.g., Fonagy, Gergely, Jurist, & Target, 2002; Young, Weinberger, Beck, & Barlow, 2001). For example, attachment researchers have been especially interested in the ways in which children’s experiences with caregiving influence their subsequent interpretations of, and responses to, stress. Infants who experience sensitive care respond differently to separations from their caregivers than do infants who have experienced rejecting, inconsistent, and/or frightening care. The former exhibit a “secure” pattern of response. Fol-


lowing a brief laboratory separation, secure infants show what is considered to be an infant’s natural predisposition during times of stress: to approach the caregiver in reaction to the stress of separation and then return to exploration. In contrast, infants who have not experienced optimal care will, upon reunion, avoid the caregiver, cling and fuss at the caregiver, and/or still or appear disorganized (Madigan et al., 2006; van IJzendoorn, 1995). These varying behaviors are interpreted as reflecting strategies, or a lack thereof, on the part of infants during times of stress (Main, 2000). Because infants of sensitive parents have come to expect comfort, they use what may be the lowest-cost behavioral strategy—­caregiver approach—in responding to separation. Infants of rejecting parents have learned that the minimization of affect is important in preventing further separations and even abandonment; hence when threats are comparatively less severe (i.e., short-term separations). they avoid the parent in order to maintain proximity (also see Main, 1981). Infants of inconsistent parents display extreme distress to maintain parents’ attention. Finally, infants of frightening parents may be overwhelmed by the combination of fear of separation and fear of the parent and thus display disorganized behavior (Hesse & Main, 1999). Indeed, most research suggests that these strategies are independent of genetic factors and are products of past experience, with sensitive parenting leading to security, rejection to avoidance, inconsistency to ambivalence, and frightening behavior to disorganization. Importantly, then, in response to laboratory stress, it may be expected that, in contrast to infants who are secure in their relationships with their parents, infants who are unable to use optimal low-cost behavioral strategies will instead exhibit increased physiological responsivity to stress. Indeed, Spangler and Grossman (1993) and Hertsgaard et al. (1995) have reported attachment-­related differences in cortisol following separation. In addition, secure infant attachment has been found to buffer effects of behavioral inhibition on cortisol responses to short laboratory separations (Spangler & Schieche, 1998), novel situations (Nachmias et al., 1996), and inoculation (Gunnar, Brodersen, Nachmias, Buss, & Rigatuso, 1996), and, in older chil-



dren, to interact with behavioral inhibition to influence ANS activity (Stevenson-Hinde & Marshall, 1999). Finally, in the aforementioned transition to day care study (Ahnert et al., 2004), the quality of attachment relationships was predictive of infants’ cortisol levels during the adaptation phase, but not the separation phase; as noted by the authors, these data suggest that mothers of secure children, when present, were helping children to manage threats associated with peers and environmental novelty.

Biological Reactivity In addition to shaping psychological interpretations and reactions, past experience may also sensitize the neurocircuitry involved in responses to stress. In fact, the majority of rodent work suggests that longterm HPA activity alters neural circuitry and neuroanatomy to contribute to the prolonged and dysregulated “dove” responses to stress, described above. Nevertheless, what is abundantly clear is that, independent of genetic contributions, among tested strains of rodents, experimental manipulations causing changes in maternal care play an impressive role in shaping stress responsivity. For example, adult mice that experienced early life stress in the form of a lack of optimal maternal behaviors and/ or maternal deprivation, have been found to exhibit alterations in neurotransmitters and receptors important to a variety of neural circuits involved in stress responses and mental health, including 5-HT, DA, and NE functioning (Brake, Zhang, Diorio, Meaney, & Gratton, 2004; Caldji, Francis, Sharma, Plotsky, & Meaney, 2000; Ladd, Owens, & Nemeroff, 1996; Liu et al., 1997; Vazquez, Lopez, Van Hoers, Watson, & Levine, 2000). Likewise, in monkeys, forced separation and developmentally inappropriate patterns in mother–­infant contact have consequences for later stress responsivity (Sanchez et al., 2005), as do other forms of repeated and/or chronic early life stress (e.g., Pryce et al., 2005). Although longitudinal human research has not examined the biological consequences of early life stress into adulthood, retrospective research suggests similar pathways from early experience to adult reactivity (e.g., Luecken, 2000; Pruessner, Champagne, Meaney, & Dagher, 2004).

With regard to findings relevant to the SAM system, little animal work specifically focuses on the effects of early life experience and later adrenal medullary output. Still, recent work suggests that early experience affects peripheral NE activity in tissue specific ways (Young, 2000). As for findings especially relevant to subsequent locus coeruleus and amygdalar activity, early life stress can result in later decreases in the expression of GABA receptors in the amygdala and locus coeruleus, more CRF receptor expression in the locus coeruleus (Caldji et al., 2000), and increased CRF messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) in the amygdala (Plotsky et al., 2005). In terms of findings especially relevant to subsequent HPA activity, early life stress has been related to alterations in locus coeruleus cells known to impact the hypothalamus (Liu, Caldji, Sharma, Plotsky, & Meaney, 2000), increased CRF mRNA in the hypothalamus, increases in basal HPA levels and HPA responsivity, and alterations in corticosteroid receptor expression in areas important to curtailing stress responses, such as the hippocampus (Francis, Caldji, Champagne, Plotsky, & Meaney, 1999). Similarly, human research suggests that children whose mothers were depressed during their infancy and/or infants who have not received optimal care exhibit increased HPA reactivity (Ashman, Dawson, Panagiotides, Yamada, & Wilkinson, 2002). In addition, a growing body of research has examined the effects of chronic stress (e.g., institutionalization) on daily cortisol levels (reviewed in Gunnar & Vazquez, 2006). As one example, foster care in infancy has been found related to both atypically high and low cortisol levels in later childhood (Dozier, Manni, et al., 2006).

Neuroanatomical Structures and Functioning Over time, psychological biases toward interpreting experiences as stressful, chronic HPA activity, and sensitization of neural circuits along with deficits in negative feedback may be expected to result in changes in brain structures. These changes can occur, for example, via cell death (apoptosis) and changes in microstructures important to receiving information (dendritic remodeling)

4. Neurobiology of Stress in Infancy

(reviewed in Korte et al., 2005; e.g., Sapolsky & Steinberg, 1999). For example, the hippocampus is one of the meaning-­making structures that can modulate hypothalamic activity; in addition, glucocorticoids may occupy receptors in the hippocampus to induce neurochemical limitations on subsequent hypothalamic activity, and, likely indirectly, locus coeruleus–­amygdala activity. Thus, volumetric loss in this structure may be especially problematic, though recent work suggests that this loss may, in some cases, be reversible (McEwen & Chattarji, 2004). Although it has not been possible to demonstrate the effects of stress on human infants in such intricate neurobiological detail, longitudinal work has demonstrated that nonoptimal parental behavior and/or maternal depression in infancy is related to alterations in brain activity as indicated by differential EEG power (Dawson et al., 2003) and hemispheric lateralization (e.g., increased right frontal activity and decreased left frontal activity; Jones, Field, & Davalos, 2000). In addition, a recent study with human infants modeled after rodent research (Hane & Fox, 2006) found that naturally occurring variations in maternal care predicted individual differences in infants’ stress reactivity, operationalized as greater right frontal electroencephalography activity, and that the observed differences in stress reactivity were not explained by temperament. In addition, though researchers have not examined whether the comparatively subtle maternal behaviors associated with maternal depression predict gross anatomical changes, magnetic resonance imagining (MRI) indicates that childhood abuse, which is associated with alterations in HPA activity, is also associated with smaller neuroanatomical structures, including the hippocampus (e.g., Stein, Koverola, Hanna, & Torchia, 1997) and frontal cortex (e.g., De Bellis et al., 2002). Not surprisingly, nonoptimal maternal care and maternal depression are sometimes linked to cognitive difficulties that may extend into early adolescence, especially in the realm of attention and impulse control, which are themselves suggestive of difficulties in frontal functioning (e.g., Fearon & Belsky, 2004; Hay et al., 2001; but see Kurstjens & Wolke, 2001). Furthermore, maternal care and depression are associated with poor behavioral outcomes, many of


which may be expected among those with slightly impaired frontal functioning; these include difficulties in school (Hay et al., 2001), both internalizing and externalizing disorders (Dawson et al., 2003), and depression in adulthood (Bureau, Easterbrooks, & Lyons-Ruth, 2009). Therefore, it appears likely that early negative experience not only shapes psychological strategies for interpreting and managing distress, but also influences the very structures necessary to perform these complex processes and limit further locus coeruleus–­amygdala and HPA activity. Thus, in keeping with the longstanding sentiments of many clinicians, research is now demonstrating that intervention early in life is important to the prevention of difficulties in emotional, cognitive, and biological domains, all of which may be expected to interact with one another to increase vulnerabilities for difficulties in mental, and even physical, health.

CONCLUSIONS Infancy represents a time of relative psychological and biological openness to new experiences. In fact, some aspects of normative development require environmental input, whereas in other cases, variation in experience may shape subsequent psychological and biological processes. Such flexibility is extraordinary from a scientific perspective and awe inspiring from the stance of prevention and intervention, as it may too signify a period during which much positive change is possible. However, because of the psychological and biological plasticity inherent to infancy, it may also represent a time where extreme, repeated, and/or chronic stress is especially harmful. Although acute stress may be manageable by a variety of behavioral and endocrine responses, chronic stress may lead to detrimental psychological, biological, and cognitive results. Thus, given the potential for significant lifelong ramifications of stress in infancy, this chapter concentrated on four key questions: how do neurobiological systems respond to stress?; what constitutes stress in infancy and which of the aforementioned neurobiological responses are expectable in these circumstances?; how might ge-



netics influence stress responsivity?; and how does repeated and/or chronic stress exposure in infancy shape subsequent responses to stress as well as overall mental and physical health? The degree to which these questions are now answerable indicates that knowledge concerning the neurobiology of stress should soon be thoroughly integrated into interventions with young children and their parents. References Ahnert, L., Gunnar, M. R., Lamb, M. E., & Barthel, M. (2004). Transition to child care: Associations with infant–­mother attachment, infant negative emotion, and cortisol elevations. Child Development, 75(3), 639–650. Ashman, S. B., Dawson, G., Panagiotides, H., Yamada, E., & Wilkinson, C. W. (2002). Stress hormone levels of children of depressed mothers. Development and Psychopathology, 14(2), 333–349. Bakermans-­K ranenburg, M. J., & van IJzendoorn, M. H. (2004). No association of the dopamine D4 receptor (DRD4) and -521 C/T promoter polymorphisms with infant attachment disorganization. Attachment and Human Development, 6(3), 211–218. Bartels, M., de Geus, E. J. C., Kirschbaum, C., Sluyter, F., & Boomsma, D. I. (2003). Heritability of daytime cortisol levels in children. Behavior Genetics, 33(4), 421–433. Bauer, A. M., Quas, J. A., & Boyce, W. T. (2002). Associations between physiological reactivity and children’s behavior: Advantages of a multisystem approach. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 23(2), 102–113. Bogat, G. A., DeJonghe, E., Levendosky, A. A., Davidson, W. S., & von Eye, A. (2006). Trauma symptoms among infants exposed to intimate partner violence. Child Abuse and Neglect, 30(2), 109–125. Bokhorst, C. L., Bakermans-­K ranenburg, M. J., Fearon, R. M. P., van IJzendoorn, M. H., Fonagy, P., & Schuengel, C. (2003). The importance of shared environment in mother–­infant attachment security: A behavioral genetic study. Child Development, 74(6), 1769–1782. Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment, separation, and loss (Vol. 1). New York: Basic Books. Boyce, W. T., & Ellis, B. J. (2005). Biological sensitivity to context: I. An evolutionary–­developmental theory of the origins and functions of stress reactivity. Development and Psychopathology, 17(2), 271–301. Brake, W. G., Zhang, T. Y., Diorio, J., Meaney, M. J., & Gratton, A. (2004). Influence of early postnatal rearing conditions on mesocorticolimbic dopamine and behavioural responses to psychostimulants and stressors in adult rats. European Journal of Neuroscience, 19(7), 1863–1874.

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Chapter 5

Infant Social and Emotional Development Emerging Competence in a Relational Context Katherine L. Rosenblum Carolyn J. Dayton Maria Muzik


erhaps no aspect of developmental change is more salient to parents than their young child’s social and emotional behavior over the first years of life. The emergence of the first social smile is anticipated eagerly, and parents worry about the meaning of their infant’s cries. Emotion and socially relevant words dominate parents’ early descriptions of their young child’s personality: “He’s such a happy baby,” “He’s so shy,” or “She just loves people.” The fascination with development in these domains is by no means limited to parents. The study of the emotional and social experience of infants and young children has a long and rich tradition in the philosophical and empirical literatures (e.g., Aristotle, 1941; James, 1884). Although often studied as separate domains, it is clear that within the child, social and emotional developments are fundamentally intertwined. For example, as the young child’s ability to differentiate emotions unfolds, there is an increasing capacity to rely on the emotional expressions of others to determine how to respond to a certain situation. Consider the glance of a 1-year-old child toward his or her mother when first meeting someone new. This new “use” of the other to navigate a social situation (often considered a social advance) is entirely de-

pendent on the young child’s ability to differentiate and respond to another’s affective expression (which could be considered an emotional advance). Changes in each of these domains across the first years of life are dramatic. The newborn infant arrives with limited capacity for self-­regulation; emotion expressions are most likely reflective of biologically based signals, evolutionarily designed to engage the other in providing protection and care, and the infant still depends on the other to respond to his or her physical and emotional needs. In just a matter of months the infant’s emotional experience is markedly more complex. He or she can engage others in interaction, express delight in face-to-face games, convey feelings of sadness or anger through differentiated facial expression, and strategically use his or her parents’ emotional expressions to determine how to respond to a given situation. This rapid developmental progress is not limited to infancy; the toddler begins to show signs of responding empathically to others, and with increasing self-­awareness shows evidence of more complex “self­conscious” emotions such as shame, embarrassment, and guilt. Earlier social interactive experiences are internalized, and the young child uses the day-to-day lived experience of 80

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social and emotional interactions to guide responses to current interactions with others. Across all of these developments what emerges is a move toward increasing social–­ emotional competence in the infant. With development the young child evidences increasing capacities for emotion regulation and coping, more complex affective expressions and understanding, and more sophisticated interactions with important others in his or her social world. In the context of facilitative environments the young child’s trajectory of greater competence is accompanied by increasing feelings of self-­efficacy, security, and trust. Our understanding of infant social–­ emotional development is informed by both normative developmental processes as well as by development in contexts of risk. A common goal of many infant mental health interventions is to support families and young children in maintaining, returning to, or developing a trajectory of social–­emotional competence. Thus we aim to provide a foundation for the chapters that follow, with an emphasis on the normative processes involved in social and emotional development and implications for infant mental health.

THEORETICAL MODELS FOR SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT Several theoretical models explaining developmental process in the social and emotional domains have been suggested. The maturational model is perhaps the most basic, and from this perspective individual development represents an innate unfolding of preset maturational time points (Gesell & Armatruda, 1947). Higher-order capacities are seen as the result of growth of brain and physical body functioning. The developmental progression of emotional expressions, for example, may be seen as reflecting this type of “unfolding timetable.” Broader integrative models address the individual in context. Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) conceptualization of the child’s experience in terms of a widening series of contexts that mutually influence one another, the ecosystem model, emphasizes both immediate environments (e.g., parent–child interactions)


that directly impinge on children’s daily lived experience, as well as more distal contexts (e.g., institutions) that don’t directly interact with the child but influence development indirectly (e.g., child care policies, cultural values). These contexts are likely to shape many of the aspects of infant social and emotional development. Transactional models consider “the interplay between child and context across time, in which the state of one affects the next state of the other in a continuous dynamic process” (Sameroff, 1993, p. 4). This perspective has clear implications for social and emotional development. For example, as parents respond to their child’s emotional displays, their reactions (e.g., perhaps frustration with a difficult-to-­soothe infant) shape the quality of the infant’s response to them (e.g., more distress as the infant reacts to parents’ frustration). Both partners in the infant–­parent dyad shape each other’s social and emotional experience in a dynamic, ongoing fashion. Current research in the biological domain has also underscored the complex interactions between biological (genetic) disposition and environmental contexts. A gene–­ environment interaction model emphasizes the ways in which individuals’ biological propensities interact with environmental characteristics to shape the course of development. For example, parental caregiving can alter the social developmental course of children who have genetic vulnerability for shy/inhibited temperamental traits (Fox et al., 2005). Several more specific models are relevant to a consideration of social and emotional domains. Attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969/1982) has contributed enormously to current conceptualizations of infant social development; the formation of attachment relationships is considered the predominant organizing force of infant and young child social development. Early interactions with care providers both promote survival and form the basis for later, more complex representations of caregivers as available and responsive. Individual differences in attachment security are evident in the ways the young child can use the attachment figure as a secure base, and these differences have implications for social and emotional development in a broadening array of contexts.



Temperament models emphasize individual differences, typically viewing young children as varying in certain characteristics that both shape their experience of the environment as well as their responses to it. Temperament models often emphasize biologically based individual differences, though current research suggests a more complex interplay with the environmental context (e.g., Fox et al., 2005). Whereas some features of temperament are less apparently related to social and emotional development (e.g., activity level), other features are inherently linked (e.g., emotionality and mood). It is likely that the impact of a child’s emotionality on social functioning depends on his or her skills at emotion regulation (Lemerise & Arsenio, 2000). Most emotion regulation models emphasize the young child’s abilities to control, modify, and manage aspects of his or her emotional reactivity and expressivity. Individual differences in emotion regulation are often considered to be related to differences in the caregiving context (Calkins & Hill, 2007), though clearly children who vary in temperament also face different tasks in regulating their emotions (Lemerise & Arsenio, 2000; Thompson, 1990). For example, a child with a positive disposition and a high threshold for distress has a very different regulatory challenge than one who is more prone to intense and persistent negative emotions.

TRANSITIONS IN SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT The first years of life involve dramatic change across multiple domains. Developments in each of these domains, however, are not evenly distributed across time. Despite some apparent underlying continuity and gradual unfolding, there are also periods of rapid change and reorganization, sometimes referred to as biobehavioral “shifts” or “transitions” (Davies, 1999; Emde & Buschsbaum, 1989). Although earlier stages involved the unfolding and emergence of certain capacities, during these periods of reorganization new capacities become integrated and dominant (Goodlin-Jones, Burnham, & Anders, 2000). We outline here several prominent developmental shifts within the social and emotional domains.

2–3 Months Most of the newborn infant’s behavior is accounted for by endogenous rhythms and internal states. Following the 2- to 3-month shift, and corresponding to rapid neurological changes, much more of infants’ daily life is spent in wakefulness, and infants are more focused and better organized (Bowlby, 1969/1982). This shift has clear implications for social interactions and engagement, and it is often most readily apparent to parents in terms of their infant’s emotional expressions and social responses. By 2 months, most infants have begun to display social smiles, and about 2 weeks later, there is evidence of cooing vocalizations in response to social encounters. These advances typically elicit delight in parents and other caregivers. Parents begin to experience their infant as having more responsiveness and more consistent characteristics.

7–9 Months This period involves a rapid increase in the differential response of the infant to familiar, primary caregivers. The infant clearly discriminates between care provided by the attachment figure and that provided by less familiar others. Thus this period has been coined the “onset of focused attachment” (Emde & Buschsbaum, 1989). Infants who previously did not protest separation may now cry when the parent leaves the room. Stranger anxiety becomes prominent. Advances in memory and cognition permit more anticipation or expectation regarding social routines and interactions. For example, whereas the younger child may have laughed on the completion of an interactive game, during this period infants may laugh in anticipation of the mother’s return during the peek-a-boo game (Lieberman, 1993; Saarni, 1999).

18–21 Months This period is characterized by the emergence of self-­awareness and increases in symbolic representation. Infants display more independence, and social interactions are increasingly facilitated by their emerging symbolic capacity (e.g., language). Social referencing is prominent; the child under-

5. Infant Social and Emotional Development

stands different affective expressions in the parent and uses them to guide responses to novel situations (Feinman, Roberts, Hsieh, Sawyer, & Swanson, 1992). In addition, toddlers increasingly use affective expressions instrumentally; for example, a child may seem to smile or pout to “get her [or his] way.” Infants remember past events and sequences and have formed representations based on repeated events—which in turn guide later behavior in new contexts. With increasing awareness of separateness comes corresponding increases in mood swings, secure base behavior, and sense of vulnerability (Lieberman, 1993; Mahler, Pine, & Bergman, 1994). During this time the toddler begins to display more self-­conscious emotions—those that seem to require some sense of awareness of self and other, including feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment, and empathy (Lewis, 2000).

EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT From the first weeks of life emotional reactions help to organize the infant’s responses to the environment and function as powerful communicative signals. Emotional processes reflect changes in physiology, cognition, and social functioning, and in turn impact each of these domains. Parents direct a great deal of activity toward helping the infant to organize emotional reactions—­either by amplifying displays of desired emotions or through efforts to divert or redirect unwanted ones. Two primary theoretical perspectives are employed in the study of emotion: structuralist and functionalist approaches. Structuralists focus on the underlying processes that constitute emotion (e.g., what are the physiological components of anger?), as well as the developmental unfolding of emotion experience (i.e., what emotions can a child experience at a given age?) and are consistent with maturational models (Izard & Malatesta, 1987). Izard and colleagues have identified a group of “primary” or “discrete” emotions—­interest, joy, surprise, sadness, anger, disgust, contempt, fear, shame, guilt, and shyness—that are considered to reflect more or less universal emotion expressions and related recognition abilities. Consistent with this approach, a great deal of research has focused on developing a comprehensive


taxonomy for identifying infant affective expressions, when they emerge, and how they evolve over the course of early development. Functionalists, in contrast, emphasize the ways in which emotions serve as “processes of establishing, maintaining, or disrupting the relations between the person and the internal or external environment, when such relations are significant to the individual” (Campos, Campos, & Barrett, 1989, p.  395). Emotions, from this perspective, are defined in terms of their function—that is, what they do. In this way, emotions may regulate other psychological and behavioral processes. For example, feelings of fear in young toddlers may result in their running to a parent to seek comfort, whereas feelings of comfort may allow them to reengage in a play activity. Although there is controversy regarding whether certain discrete emotions exist from earliest infancy as innate, universal, biologically determined phenomena, it is generally agreed that emotional development involves increasingly more complex interactions between emotional, cognitive, physiological, and social–­environmental systems (Bell & Wolfe, 2004; Fogel et al., 1992). We thus begin with a description of research on the unfolding of emotion expression across the first years of life, followed by an examination of the interpersonal contexts of infant emotional development.

Development of Emotion Expression Newborns are capable of a more limited range of discrete emotional expressions, but with development, display a broader range of emotions and grow more responsive to a wider variety of eliciting conditions. There are at least three early appearing primary emotions, that is, those evident from the earliest weeks and months of life: distress, positive/joy, and interest expressions. Present at birth, distress reactions differentiate over time into more refined discrete emotions, including sadness, disgust, fear, and anger (Izard & Malatesta, 1987). For example, general distress is the infant’s primary response to inoculation at 2 months, but by 19 months anger is predominant (Izard, Hembree, & Huebner, 1987). Positive emotion expressions, including smiles, typically emerge by 2–3 months, with laughter often



apparent by 3–4 months. More complex affective blends also emerge over the first year of life; for example, one study of 6-montholds revealed indicators of jealousy, indexed as diminished joy, heightened anger, and increased negative affect, when the attention of a preferred caregiver was directed to another (Hart, Carrington, Tronick, & Carroll, 2004). With the onset of self-­awareness in the second year of life many secondary or “self-­conscious” emotions become evident (Lewis, 2000), including embarrassment, shame, guilt, and pride. For example, Barrett, Zahn-­Waxler, and Cole (1993) observed two approaches taken by 2-year-olds after they believed that they had broken the experimenter’s “favorite doll.” One group of children tried to fix the situation (the “amenders”), and a second group sought to avoid the experimenter, usually by smiling with their faces averted (the “avoiders”). The researchers suggest that the amenders were demonstrating behavior consistent with feelings of guilt, whereas avoiders were presumably feeling something akin to shame. Many social, cultural, and biological factors are likely to determine the types of reactions an individual child will have to specific emotion-­evocative situations. For example, guilt may be more acceptable in many Western cultures (Walbot & Scherer, 1995), whereas shame is often perceived as more aversive and disturbing. Many collectivistic cultures, in contrast, view shame as an emotion that helps to facilitate appropriate social bonds and compliance (Cole, Tamang, & Shrestha, 2006; Kitayama, Marcus, & Matsumoto, 1995).

Infant Sensitivity to Others’ Emotional Signals Emotional expressions are critical social signals, and thus not surprisingly infants become attuned and responsive to the emotional signals of others at a very young age. By 2-months infants are capable of discriminating among distinct human expressions (e.g., Oster, 1981), including the intensity levels of some expressions. This early capacity for discrimination does not, however, imply “understanding” others’ expressions; such an understanding involves a process that continues to unfold across the first several

years of life. Corresponding to developments in the cognitive domain, the 8- to 9-monthold infant begins to appreciate that others’ emotional messages pertain to specific objects or events. Social referencing describes the infant’s ability to use others’ expressions to help shape his or her own responses to the environment. This ability is well established by 12 months of age (Feinman, Roberts, Hsieh, Sawyer, & Swanson, 1992), but also increases in complexity over time. For example, 18-month-olds appear to engage in “emotional eavesdropping,” whereby they use information from interadult emotional expressions in order to determine whether to approach an object (Repaccholi & Meltzoff, 2007). Beyond the ability to detect the emotional expressions of others, infants also develop expectations regarding others’ affective displays during social engagement. Peek-a-boo games initiated by adult caretakers tap the infant’s ability to expect the adult’s smiling face following a period of disengagement. Researchers have studied these expectations through the use of procedures designed to interrupt “usual” interactive contingencies. For example, the Still-Face Procedure (Tronick, 2003) is a structured, adult–­infant interactive task that typically includes (1) a period of face-to-face free play; (2) a period during which the adult holds a still, emotionally unresponsive expression; and (3) a reengagement period during which the dyad returns to face-to-face play. Between 2- to 9-months-of-age infants display heightened negative affect, and corresponding physiological arousal, during the still-face phase, presumably because they recognize that this disruption in affective exchange is discrepant and undesirable (Rosenblum, McDonough, Muzik, Miller, & Sameroff, 2002; Tronick, 2006; Weinberg & Tronick, 1996). As emotional detection and expectation abilities develop, the capacity for empathic responding also reveals developmental changes in the young child’s sensitivity to others’ emotional displays. For instance, the process of emotional “contagion” (e.g., when other infants in a day care center start to cry after one starts crying) is generally considered an infantile “preempathic” capacity (Saarni, 1999). Later in development, toddlers have been observed to display more advanced empathic responding, reflect-

5. Infant Social and Emotional Development

ing a higher-order cognitive capacity that permits better perspective taking with others. Expressions of concern (e.g., a worried look, patting, asking “Baby okay?”) or efforts to generate hypotheses about what has caused another’s distress (e.g., asking “Baby owie?”) suggest an emerging sensitivity to the distress of others. This growing ability for empathy is likely to have a basis in how others have responded to infants’ own displays of distress. For example, abused toddlers make fewer empathic gestures but are more personally upset by, or aggressive toward, distressed peers (Main & George, 1985), whereas infants whose mothers were more responsive during the first year of life show more empathic concerned attention and fewer personal distress reactions to others at 18 months (Spinrad & Stifter, 2006).

Temperament, Genes, and Emotions in Infancy Beyond the changes that occur across development, children differ in their emotional “makeup,” and these differences are often described in terms of temperamental variations. For example, highly reactive, irritable babies are frequently described as “difficult,” whereas infants more prone to positive emotions and less reactive are described as “easygoing.” Although temperament includes more than emotions, emotionality is considered to be an important component. In this chapter we consider another related domain, emotion regulation, separately in a later section. Consistent with the gene–­environment interaction model, temperament has been understood as a biologically based set of behavioral tendencies that influence how an individual will approach, respond to, and interact with the larger social world (Rothbart & Bates, 1998). In defining temperament some researchers have emphasized a narrow set of dimensions, (e.g., activity level, emotionality, and socialibility; Buss & Plomin, 1984), whereas others argue for a broader array (e.g., proneness to distress and fear, soothability, attention span, persistence, and positive emotionality; Rothbart & Derryberry, 1981; Thomas & Chess, 1977). However, there is general consensus that emotional reactivity is a critical feature of temperament. Reactivity refers to the excitability or


arousability of the individual’s response system (Rothbart & Derryberry, 1981), such as how quickly the infant expresses distress in response to an unfamiliar stimulus, how intense the distress is, and how long the infant takes to recover. Over the past several decades studies have yielded mixed evidence regarding the stability of temperamental features over time. Evidence for modest stability includes the seminal longitudinal research of Thomas and Chess (1977), who investigated several temperamental dimensions in infancy and defined groups of “easy,” “difficult,” and “slow-to-warm” children, with the “difficult” group (approximately 10% of infants) showing high levels of negative mood, irregularity in body functions, and slow adaptation to the environment. Subsequent longitudinal research demonstrated that those children who presented with high levels of negative emotional behaviors early in life, indexed as negative affect and aggression, had more behavior problems in middle childhood (age 5) and adolescence (ages 14–17). Yet while early childhood negative affect and aggression were significantly intercorrelated (r = .63), only those children who displayed aggression at age 3 were more aggressive in middle childhood, and in turn had more behavior problems in adolescence (Lerner, Hertzog, Hooker, Hassibi, & Tomas, 1988). Others have studied behaviorally inhibited infants (approximately 15% of a larger sample) who exhibit extreme fear and inhibition when exposed to novelty (e.g., Calkins & Fox, 1992; Kagan, Reznick, Clarke, Snidman, & García-Coll, 1984); results indicated modest stability from infancy to middle childhood (approximately 30% remained inhibited; Fox, Henderson, Rubin, Calkins, & Schmidt, 2001). Furthermore, behavioral inhibition in infancy proved to be a significant predictor of anxiety disorders, particularly social anxiety in later childhood (Kagan, Snidman, McManis, & Woodward, 2001; Schwartz, Snidman, & Kagan, 1999). Although assessment of temperament is often based on behavioral observations, more recent studies reflect advances in biological research. Individual differences in infant temperament are currently thought to originate in genetic variations underpinning behavioral, neuroendocrine, and physiological regulatory processes (see Propper



& Moore, 2006, for review). The human genome consists of approximately 30,000 genes that code essentially all structures of the human body and also regulate functioning across these structures. Genes come in variations of size, referred to as alleles, and these different alleles often translate into variations in gene activity level (i.e., “gene expression”). Current research explores associations between alleles of a given gene and temperamental vulnerability. Recently, genes coding for the activity level of two receptors in the brain—the dopamine D4 receptor (DRD4) and the serotonin transporter receptor (5-HTTLPR)—have been identified as underlying mechanisms for some key temperamental variations, specifically, to individual differences in approach behaviors and inhibition, attention, and novelty seeking (Auerbach, Benjamin, Faroy, Geller, & Ebstein, 2001; Ebstein et al., 1998; Kluger, Siegfried, & Ebstein, 2002). For example, infants possessing the short versus long allele of the DRD4 gene are rated by their mothers as higher in negative emotionality at 2 and 12 months of age, and infants with the short allele of the serotonin transporter gene (“short” 5-HTTLPR allele) have been found to display heightened fear and behavioral inhibition (Auerbach, Faroy, Ebstein, Kahana, & Levine, 2001; Auerbach et al., 1999). Research also suggests an additive effect across DRD4 and 5-HTTLPR; infants with short alleles on both genes display more negative emotion reactivity than infants who carry only one risk allele (Auerbach, Faroy, et al., 2001; Auerbach et al., 1999). While these risk alleles appear to play a direct role in infant temperamental variations, current research on gene–­environment interactions underscores the critical influence of early social experience on gene functioning. Environmental factors can either ameliorate or potentiate genetically based temperamental risk (Caspi et al., 2003; Fox et al., 2005; Kaufman et al., 2004), and this finding holds important implications for intervention. For example, children who were 5-HTTLPR risk carriers and had experienced childhood abuse were more likely to develop depression later on, but only when their caregivers were themselves under heightened stress (Kaufman et al., 2004). Similarly, behaviorally inhibited infants who were carriers of the 5-HTTLPR risk allele were at increased risk

for behavioral inhibition in middle childhood only when their caregivers reported low social support (Fox et al., 2005). Finally, a recent study found that although maternal insensitivity was associated with later externalizing behavior, this was only true in the presence of infant DRD4 genetic risk status. Insensitive parenting coupled with infant genetic vulnerability led to a sixfold increase in child aggressive behaviors in the preschool years (Bakermans-­K raneburg & van IJzendoorn, 2006). These gene–­environment interactions are consistent with a transactional perspective and have been described in the “goodnessof-fit”-model (Seifer, 2000), which argues that the consequences of temperamental vulnerability are dependent on the way the infant’s temperament interacts with the demands of the specific environment. Parents who understand and sensitively respond to their children’s behavior, even when the behavior is considered “difficult,” may help their children learn to regulate their temperamental challenges more effectively, thus preventing later development of behavioral problems (Ghera, Hane, & Malesa, 2006; Teti & Candelaria, 2002). In contrast, parents who react to infant difficulty with harsh parenting or reduced sensitivity increase their children’s risk for later maladjustment (Bates, Pettit, & Dodge, 1995; Belsky, Hsieh, & Crnic, 1998; Crockenberg, 1981). Taken together, these findings suggest that temperamental “difficulty” does not reside within the individual alone, but is significantly shaped or modified by the environmental context. As suggested here, one important environmental influence involves the parent’s ability to sensitively respond to the child’s emotions as they unfold over the course of development.

Parental Responses to Infant Emotions The impact of parenting on infant emotional development and expression has been studied from a number of different perspectives. Multiple aspects of infant emotional behavior, including expressiveness, self- and other­directed emotion regulatory behaviors, and soothability, have been linked, for example, to parents’ own emotional expressiveness (e.g., Garner, 1995), awareness of emotional states (Gergely & Watson, 1996), and emo-

5. Infant Social and Emotional Development

tional dysregulation (e.g., depression) (Field, 1994). From early infancy parents perceive a wide array of emotions in their young children, and these attributions of emotion can have important implications, as evidenced by research on how parents’ own mental health colors the appropriateness of emotions they perceive (Dix, 1991; Leerkes & Crockenberg, 2003). For example, mothers at risk for less secure attachment relationships with their infants make fewer benign, and more hostile, attributions regarding ambiguous infant facial expressions (Rosenblum, Zeanah, McDonough, & Muzik, 2004). Across parent–­infant dyads parents’ emotional exchanges with their infants tend to follow meaningful patterns of interaction. Stern (1985) has written extensively about his observation of mother–­infant emotional exchange, noting that the affective interactions have a dynamic “shape” to them, and that patterns of engagement vary across mother–­infant dyads. Infant mental health, Stern suggests, is strongly affected by the synchrony of the interaction. Indeed, asynchronous interaction, observed when one of the partners is not sensitively attuned and responsive to the cues of the other, has been demonstrated to negatively affect infants’ early emotional development (Malatesta, Culver, Tesman, & Shepard, 1989; Tronick & Weinberg, 1997). Tronick and Cohn (1989) observed that although the coordination and synchrony of mother–­infant dyads increased from 3 to 9 months, they typically spent more time in “miscoordinated” or “asynchronous” states than in synchronized matching states. These results, consistent with a mutual regulation model (Tronick, 2006), suggest that the process of disruption and repair may be a critical part of the developmental process. For example, Rosenblum and colleagues (2002) observed that some mothers and infants used positive affect (e.g., peek-a-boo games) to “reconnect” following the interactive disruption imposed by the Still-Face Procedure, and this was associated with indicators of more enhanced relationship security. The process of emotional exchange has been proposed to play a central role in the infant’s emerging ability to recognize and regulate his or her own emotional states (Lewis & Ramsay, 2005). Gergely and Wat-


son (1996), for example, provide a compelling account of the role of maternal affective mirroring, suggesting that mothers’ ability to accurately perceive, mentally transform, and then display a “marked” exaggerated response to the infants’ emotional displays is related to the infants’ own ability to internalize and understand emotional experience. Disturbances may arise when parents display a purely mirrored form of infants’ distress without the accompanying “marking.” For example, parents whose emotion regulation style is characterized by a tendency to overactivate emotional arousal may simply mimic their infants’ emotional expression, without processing and transforming the emotion. This “pure mirroring” may escalate infants’ emotional state because it fails to provide the necessary containment and assistance in coping with the experienced emotion. With development language plays an increasingly important role in young children’s understanding of emotion (Garner, 2003; Meins, Fernyhough, & Wainwright, 2003). Verbal acknowledgment of mental states, which could be considered a form of verbal mirroring, is increasingly used in place of facial mirroring to facilitate infants’ emotion understanding. To illustrate, in a recent study children whose mothers used more mental-state language with them at 15 and 24 months, for example, making reference to child desire (e.g., “You want that rattle?”) or emotion (e.g., “That surprised you!”), performed better on structured emotion understanding tasks (Taumoepeau & Ruffman, 2006). Across early development, parents and caretakers are essential in helping infants express and manage their developing emotions. Through these affective exchange processes, disruption–­repair sequences, and physical and verbal mirroring, infants begin to internalize emotion awareness, understanding, and early emotional self-­regulation abilities.

Emotion Regulation Child emotion regulation is increasingly recognized as a core component of social–­ emotional competence, functional in almost all of a child’s transactions with the world (Calkins & Hill, 2007; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2004). As children move into the preschool years they are



largely expected to control their emotions in the service of their own, and society’s, goals (Sroufe, Egeland, Carlson, & Collins, 2005), and indicators of emotional dysregulation are often the basis of clinical referral. Children who are well regulated (both in emotion and behavior) are better able to adapt to contextual and situational changes in the environment in a flexible and spontaneous manner, as well as to delay their reactions (e.g., exert control) when appropriate (Eisenberg et al., 2001). From a developmental neuroscience perspective, emotion, cognition, and the developing neural mechanisms of regulation are dynamically linked and work together to help the infant and young child process information and engage in emotion-­regulatory action (Bell & Wolfe, 2004), a process that unfolds from infancy into the preschool years and beyond (Kopp, 1989). Important reviews have addressed the controversial topic of how to best define and measure emotion regulation (see Cole, Martin, & Dennis, 2004). Many of these definitions, however, share a perspective that emotion regulation processes include behaviors, skills, and strategies—­conscious or unconscious, effortful or automatic—that modulate, inhibit, or enhance emotional experiences and expressions (Calkins & Hill, 2007). Although both positive and negative emotions can be regulated and used to achieve goals (e.g., smiling to enhance interactive repair, or anger to eliminate a barrier), child emotion regulation as a dynamic process is often most readily observed in contexts of challenge that afford negative emotions (Cole et al., 2004). When confronted with challenging situations, the infant or young child can utilize a variety of behavioral emotion regulation strategies to cope with heightened arousal, including distress reactions, avoidance, and self-­comforting behaviors; a repertoire of available strategies that increases over time (Calkins & Hill, 2007; Kopp, 1989; Thompson, 1990). For example, in early infancy the capacity for gaze aversion and motor control allows the infant to shift attention away from a negative event (e.g., something that is overwhelming) to something more positive (e.g., a toy) and thereby modulate negative affect (Calkins, 2004; Johnson, Posner, & Roth-

bart, 1991; Kochanska, 2001). Parents can assist in this process through their efforts to divert the infant’s attention (Crockenberg & Leerkes, 2004; Johnson et al., 1991). By the end of the first year infants are more active in their attempts to modulate distress. They are increasingly able to plan behavior and can act intentionally to signal others to assist them in modulating their affective states. During the second year of life infants move from more passive to more active methods of emotion regulation, and although caregivers continue to play an important role, toddlers are increasingly able to use specific strategies to manage different affective states. Challenging events may elicit more or less effective regulation of the distress across infants. For example, Lewis and Ramsay (2005) observed 4- and 6-month-old infants’ anger and sadness in response to situations that prevented them from achieving a desired goal. Infant displays of sadness were related to greater stress hormone reactions (i.e., cortisol production), whereas displays of anger were not, suggesting a more adaptive role of anger. Infant anger in response to goal blockage is often associated with attempts to overcome the obstacle (Lemerise & Dodge, 2000). In contrast, sadness may reflect infants’ perceived lack of control over the situation, or perception of task failure, without corresponding coping to facilitate adaptive physiological regulation (Lewis & Ramsay, 2002, 2005). The capacity for effective emotion regulation is often considered to have strong social origins, based in the early interactions between parent and infant (Calkins & Hill, 2007; Cole, Teti, & Zahn-­Waxler, 2003; Kopp, 1989; Stern, 1985; Stifter, 2002; Thompson, 1990). For example, less dyadic synchrony between mothers and their 3-month-olds in the Still-Face Procedure is associated with less effective physiological regulation of the challenge task (Moore & Calkins, 2004). Among 2-year-old children negative maternal behavior is related to poor physiological regulation, less adaptive emotion regulation, and noncompliant behavior (Calkins, Smith, Gill, & Johnson, 1998). In contrast, maternal positive guidance is associated with 18-month-old toddlers’ effective use of distraction and mother-­oriented regulating behaviors during a frustration­inducing task (Calkins et al., 1998), and

5. Infant Social and Emotional Development

6-month-olds show less distress when their mothers respond contingently to their efforts at self-­soothing (e.g., gaze aversion; Crockenberg & Leerkes, 2004). Ultimately, many factors, including the social environment, maturational processes, and temperament, influence emotion regulation capacities during the first years of life. Each child’s capacity for effective emotional self-­regulation develops within a relational context and becomes a core element of the child’s self-­regulation and social–­emotional competence.

Infant Mental Health Implications Given the vast number of expressive interchanges that occur between parent and infant during the first months of life (Magai, 1999), the influence of parents’ emotional engagement with their infant is likely to hold significant consequences for infant emotional development. Thus, from an infant mental health standpoint, it is critical to asses the parent–­infant emotional “dance” (Stern, 1985), and to observe both the process of affective synchrony as well as the process of repair following disruptions (Rosenblum, Dayton, & McDonough, 2006; Tronick, 2006). The emotional tone of early experience provides a framework within which the infant develops his or her own affective repertoire. Thus, a parent’s reduced capacity, for example, in the case of untreated depression or anxiety, to engage in emotionally positive interaction with the infant may take on an especially important role (Kogan & Carter, 1996). Although the identification and assessment of negative emotionality, or hostile-­negative dyadic interactions, is often the focus of infant mental health intervention, research indicates that the absence of positive affect may be an even more important harbinger of problems in the emotional domain (Rosenblum et al., 2006). Current research also underscores the importance of recognizing that the challenges of parenting are different for different groups of infants. For example, parents of temperamentally “difficult” infants face greater challenges in soothing their children, and their children appear to be more sensitive to lapses in their caregiving. Leerkes and Crockenberg (2003) suggest that mothers


who are successful at calming their temperamentally difficult infants may develop higher degrees of sensitivity than either mothers with temperamentally “easy” infants, or mothers who have difficult infants but are unsuccessful at soothing. When parents view their temperamentally challenging infants as sootheable, they display higher levels of sensitive caregiving (Ghera et al., 2006). Thus helping parents to recognize these challenges as surmountable is likely to have positive impacts. Taken together, these studies suggest that both parents and infants play an important role in the development of infant emotion regulation and social–­emotional competence. In the following section we focus more fully on the social context within which these emotion regulation capacities emerge and develop.

SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT Infants are born into complex social networks and enter the world with strong propensities for forming social–­affective bonds with others. From the first primary attachment relationship to increasingly complex social relations with extended family, peers, and others, the young child is immersed in a world of social relatedness. Social developmental milestones across the first 3 years are strongly rooted in cognitive and neurological advances, and are embedded in the broader social context. Table 5.1 provides an overview of this developmental process, highlighting central tasks, the context of these advances, and the young child’s corresponding social developmental milestones. The social context of these advances progresses from primarily the parent–­infant relationship to include other significant relationships, including peers, extended family, or child care relationships. The coordination of these advances initially reflects primarily parent-led sequences, but with time incorporate greater infant initiative and back-andforth interactions. With continued development these interactive encounters reflect the establishment of goal-­corrected partnerships, wherein the infant and adult negotiate their exchanges with an awareness of each other as separate, yet interdependent, selves.


Primarily the parent– infant relationship

Parent–infant and close family relationships

Parent–infant and close family relationships

Parent–infant relationship

Reciprocal exchange

Infant initiative

Onset and establishment of focused attachment

Primarily the parent– infant relationship


Emerging sociability

Social context(s)

Developmental task

Parent provides secure base Infant relies on parent for comfort and protection during times of distress or perceived threat Infant explores the environment in the presence of caregiver

Infant initiation of play with others, as well as an increasing ability to direct activities Infant embellishes on others’ initiations

Back-and-forth exchanges between infant and others

Parent-led system of coordinated engagement with the infant Face-to-face interaction with increasing mutual gaze Parent language and verbalization toward infant

Parent assists the infant in regulating sleep, feeding, distress, and arousal

Coordinated behaviors

Stranger anxiety, separation distress Emergence of person permanence (i.e., ability to keep the parent in mind even when he or she is not present) Secure base behavior

Evidence of intentionality and goal direction—the infant shows a preference for certain activities and leads attention Delight in games (e.g., peek-a-boo)

Infant increasingly responsive to social bids

Increased eye-to-eye contact Emergence of social smiles Social vocalizations

Developing attentiveness to the social world Increasing coordination of parent–infant interactions

Select milestones

TABLE 5.1.  Social Developmental Tasks, Contexts, and Milestones across the First 3 Years of Life

7–18 months

6–9 months

3–6 months

2–3 months

0–3 months



Broader social context, Infant has an awareness of self including parents, family, Infant determines and selects his or her own goals peers, care providers and intentions apart from parents

Broader social context, Child displays an emerging awareness that the including parents, family, caregiver’s intentions are separate from his or her peers, care providers own The coordination of sequences increasingly reflects exchanges between two autonomous yet interdependent individuals

Siblings, peer relationships

Self-assertion and independent selfconcept

Recognition, continuity, and emergence of a goalcorrected partnership

Establishing peer relationships

Note. Data from Sander (1975); Sparrow, Balla, & Cicchetti (1984); and Sroufe (1989).

Child engages in meaningful interaction with siblings and peers in play groups, day care environments, and other settings

Broader social context, Infant displays an awareness of others’ point of including parents, family, view peers, care providers Infant seeks others’ facial expressions in order to understand new situations

Emergence of joint attention

Increasing interest in other children Moves from solitary to parallel play Rough-and-tumble play with peers Evidence of empathic concern regarding peer distress

Emerging recognition of the permanence and continuity of primary relationships Increasing ability to negotiate and coordinate behavior in terms of the goals of the other Empathic responding

Mirror self-recognition Use of “no” and temper tantrums Increasing autonomy Egocentric reasoning

Imitative learning Social referencing Expresses affect instrumentally or purposefully

18–36 months

18–36 months

18–24 months

9–12 months



While attachment relationships are not the only context for infant social development (Crockenberg & Leerkes, 2000), attachment theory is a predominant model for understanding early parent–­infant relationships. In the following section we therefore provide an overview of how parent–­infant attachment relationships develop, moving from a discussion of universal processes to a review of individual differences in the quality of attachment relationships. We consider the caregiving context of attachment security and how early experiences serve as relational templates for later social relationships.

Infant–­Parent Attachment Relationship Attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969/1982) emphasizes the fact that human infants exist for an extended period of time in a state of dependency wherein proximity to a caretaker is essential for both physical survival and the development of psychological health (e.g., security, emotion regulation; Simpson, 1999). The primary evolutionary function of this proximity is to promote survival of the dependent infant, but with development attachment relationships evolve to include more complex functions. The infant is increasingly able to use the attachment figure as a secure base, deriving the security needed to allow for exploration of the environment when safe, and the protection and comfort needed in times of fear or distress (Sroufe & Waters, 1977). Across diverse cultural contexts, maternal attachments are often primary, although shifting work–­family balances within many (especially Western) cultures has resulted in fathers spending increasing amounts of time actively parenting their children (Hofferth, Pleck, Stueve, Bianchi, & Sayer, 2002). Relative to maternal attachments, contemporary theory and research suggest that infant–­ father attachments emphasize the infant’s ability to explore versus the propensity to seek comfort when distressed (Grossmann et al., 2002; Paquette, 2004). Across mothers and fathers, however, attachment relationships serve as a foundation for the early establishment of affect and arousal regulation. Individual differences in the quality of these early relationships appear to have implications for the young child’s emerging emotion regulation, sense of self-­efficacy, and social

relatedness outside the parent–child context (Sroufe et al., 2005).

Individual Differences in Attachment Relationships Whereas from an evolutionary perspective infants are biologically driven to form attachment relationships, individual differences in the quality of these relationships have been the focus of abundant research over the past decades. Ainsworth and colleagues developed a laboratory-­administered procedure, the Strange Situation Protocol (SSP), to assess individual differences in the quality of attachment relationship patterns (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978). Through the induction of stressful challenges the SSP provides an opportunity for observation of the process of interactive repair; challenges include exposure to an unknown environment, interaction with an unknown adult, and two separations from, and reunions with, the parent. These challenges are intended to activate the infant’s attachment strategy, and the infant’s behavior during this procedure is observed with special attention paid to the ways the infant uses the parent to regulate his or her emotional states following separation. Ainsworth described three organized patterns characterizing how infants (and parents) negotiate this attachment-­behavior-­eliciting task: the secure, the anxious-­avoidant, and the anxious-­ambivalent attachment patterns (Ainsworth et al., 1978). Infants demonstrating secure attachments to their caregivers were able to openly and genuinely display their emotions and use their parents to help regulate their distress. Once comforted, these infants returned to exploratory play. Their balanced and open regulatory strategy was not surprising in light of home observations that suggested these infants had mothers who were generally sensitive and tender in their caretaking interactions. The infants appeared to “trust” the parent to provide care and protection, and indeed, these mothers were contingently responsive and attuned to the expressed needs and desires of their infants. In contrast, infants with an anxious­avoidant pattern behaved as if they did not need comfort from their parent at all, although physiological indicators revealed

5. Infant Social and Emotional Development

high levels of arousal and distress. Avoidant children played independently and often seemed impervious to their parents’ presence or absence. During home observations mothers of avoidantly attached infants were rejecting of infant distress. Thus the behavioral strategy shown by anxious-­avoidant infants has been understood as an effort on the children’s side to maintain proximity to the parents by deactivating their own displays of emotional needs (Magai, 1999). The third pattern, anxious-­ambivalent attachment, was characterized by a heightened activation strategy. These infants appeared desperate to have contact with their parents, but appeared unable to be soothed by the parent once reunited. Thus these infants were unable to return to exploratory play (Magai, 1999). Mothers of ambivalently attached infants were observed to be fairly inconsistent in their care, and their interactions with their infants were often not contingently based on the infants’ cues. The infants’ heightened emotion activation was thus understood as an effort on the children’s side to keep the parents responsive and involved. A fourth attachment pattern was later articulated by Main and Solomon (1986) and labeled disorganized. These children, often with histories of maltreatment, abuse, and neglect, seemed to lack a coherent, organized strategy for gaining proximity to their parents when distressed, but instead displayed bizarre or uncoordinated behaviors in response to the stressful paradigm. For example, some of these infants temporarily froze or displayed conflicted approach–­ avoidance behaviors toward their parents, as if expressing ambivalence and fear in their attempts to gain proximity. Because mothers of disorganized infants have been found to display both frightening and frightened behaviors (e.g., bizarre vocalizations, sudden intrusive physical movements, reacting with fear to infant behaviors; Lyons-Ruth & Jacobvitz, 1999), these infants experience an understandable conflict regarding how and whether to seek proximity and care from their attachment figure.

Early Attachment and Later Social–­Emotional Competence Longitudinal research has followed children from infancy into early adulthood and con-


firms that, in general, the quality of early attachment relationships holds consequences for children’s later social and emotional competence, though later life events also moderate the stability of these associations (Grossmann, Grossmann, & Waters, 2005; Sroufe et al., 2005). In general, children who build a secure attachment with their caregiver early in life continue to hold a secure working model of relationships in mind and show the most optimal developmental outcomes in later years. In contrast, children with avoidant attachment histories appear to expect rejection within the context of relationships, and research indicates reduced interpersonal competence later in life, particularly when coupled with other risk factors. These children are more vulnerable to becoming emotionally insulated, hostile, and antisocial themselves, potentially provoking adults and peers into rejecting them (Weinfield, Sroufe, Egeland, & Carlson, 1999). For example, previously avoidant children are likely to exhibit greater hostility and scapegoating of peers than their secure and ambivalent resistant counterparts (Suess, Grossmann, & Sroufe, 1992). Children with ambivalent, resistant histories have learned to behave in an overaroused manner in an attempt to garner the emotional warmth that has been offered inconsistently. In early childhood these children are described as more hesitant in exploring novel situations, immature, and easily frustrated; more likely to be neglected by their peers (in contrast to the rejection that avoidant children face); more likely to display separation anxiety; more socially isolated and/or hostile; and less empathic to other children’s displays of distress than their secure counterparts (Horvath & Weinraub, 2005; Kestenbaum, Farber, & Sroufe, 1989; Sroufe, 1983). The most vulnerable group appears to be infants with disorganized attachment patterns. This pattern evolves in the face of a child’s fear and uncertainty regarding how the parent will react, given a history of frightened or frightening responses that might include seductive enmeshment, helplessness, hostility, or abuse. Thus, not surprisingly, the outcomes of these infants are relatively poor; studies have documented a host of problematic outcomes, including



more controlling behavior in early childhood, more hostile/aggressive behavior toward peers, more externalizing and internalizing behavior problems, and developmental lags that include lower academic self-­esteem and achievement (for review, see Green & Goldwyn, 2002; Lyons-Ruth & Jacobvitz, 1999).

Parental Influences on Infant Social Development The caregiving context plays a critical role in the development of infant attachment security and early social–­emotional competence. Here we consider several domains of parental influence on the infant and young child’s social–­emotional development, including parenting behavior, verbal engagement with the infant, and the parents’ own attachment representations.

Caregiving Sensitivity Beginning with Ainsworth’s seminal home studies, maternal caregiving sensitivity (e.g., warmth, attunement, and acceptance) has been suggested as the primary mechanism underlying infant attachment relationships (Ainsworth et al., 1978). The role of caregiving sensitivity, particularly in response to infant distress (McElwain & Booth-­Laforce, 2006), has since been confirmed across multiple studies, although later research has not demonstrated effects as strong as Ainsworth’s original work (De Wolff & van IJzendoorn, 1997). More recently, other factors have been identified that may shape the development of attachment patterns; for example, child temperament (Mangelsdorf, McHale, Die­ ner, Goldstein, & Lehn, 2000), the broader child care context (Aviezera, Sagi-­Schwartz, & Koren-Karie, 2003; Sagi, van IJzendoorn, Aviezer, & Donnell, 1994), or other aspects of caregiving such as dyadic regulation and emotional availability (Biringen, 2000; Harrist & Waugh, 2002). These and other studies confirm that many aspects of the caregiving context contribute to infant attachment outcomes. The role that fathers play in the social development of their young children has only recently been given more attention. In general, research has failed to find an association

between traditional (e.g., mother-­derived) assessments of fathers’ sensitivity and infant attachment (Braungart-­R ieker, Garwood, Powers, & Wang, 2001; Grossmann et al., 2002; van IJzendoorn & De Wolff, 1997). However, there is evidence that other paternal behaviors, such as the ability to be emotionally supportive and challenging during play interactions, may have an important role in supporting the infant’s exploration (rather than proximity seeking, as assessed in the SSP), and may therefore be more salient aspects of the father–­infant relationship (Grossmann et al., 2002). There has been a surge of interest in parents’ verbal attributions of mental states to their infants, or mind-­minded comments (Meins, Fernyhough, & Fradley, 2001; Meins et al., 2003). Mind-­mindedness refers to a parent’s tendency to treat the infant as an individual with a mind. For example, parents high in mind-­mindedness comment on their child’s interests, desires, feelings, and beliefs during interaction (e.g., “You want that ball, don’t you?” or “Are you so sad?”). A parent low in mind-­mindedness tends to view the child more concretely in terms of need states and behaviors, or in terms of the parent’s own perspective (e.g., “You’re just being fussy”). Mothers’ mind-­minded comments during interactions with their 6-month-old infants are correlated with behavioral sensitivity and interactive synchrony (Meins et al., 2001; Muzik & Rosenblum, 2003; Rosenblum, McDonough, Sameroff, & Muzik, 2008) and indeed, some evidence suggests that mothers’ appropriate mind­minded comments may be a stronger predictor of attachment security at 1-year than maternal behavioral sensitivity (Meins et al., 2001). In addition, mind-­minded comments in the first year of life have been linked to 4-year-old children’s understanding of other peoples’ mental states, or “theory of mind” (Meins, Fernyhough, & Johnson, 2006).

The Role of Mental Representations Attachment theory postulates that throughout early development, daily lived experiences of interactions with the primary caregiver are stored as memory templates. These internal working models (Bowlby, 1982), or mental representations, incorporate both the cognitive and affective elements of early

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caregiving experiences (Crittenden, 1990), and are thought to guide behaviors and expectations within other social relationships, including parents’ relationships with their children. In the following section we discuss influences of parental representations, both regarding parents’ representations of past relationships with their own parents and current representations of their children, on parenting behavior and infant attachment. Parents’ Representations of Their Own Early Relationship Experiences.  Research on adult attachment representations has focused primarily on individuals’ current state of mind with respect to their early attachment relationships, assessed via the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI; George, Kaplan, & Main, 1985). The AAI yields four main categories (autonomous, dismissive, enmeshed, and unresolved) that correspond, respectively, to the four infant attachment categories (secure, avoidant, ambivalent­resistant, and disorganized). Primary among the factors differentiating the autonomous (secure) versus nonautonomous adult attachment patterns is the ability to psychologically access and coherently articulate affectively charged thoughts and events without the need to minimize (as in the dismissing category) or distort (as in the preoccupied category) the information (Main & Goldwyn, 1984). Thus, regardless of the specific content of the childhood events being recounted (e.g., memories of abuse or neglect vs. love and support in childhood), the critical factor is how openly and coherently the adult can describe these memories in his or her narrative report of past events. Parents’ internal working models of relationships also function as emotion regulators in the relational context (Rosenblum et al., 2006; Zimmermann, 1999) and are likely to influence the degree to which parents can openly and genuinely identify and orient to their children’s emotions (Cassidy, 1994). For example, mothers’ AAI attachment classifications have been related to the way they conveyed emotions toward their infants while singing to them; dismissive mothers were found unable to modify their singing to adjust for infant distress (Milligan, Atkinson, Trehub, Benoit, & Poulton, 2003). Conversely, mothers with autonomous AAI classifications have been observed to be more


sensitively attuned to a wider range of infant affects than nonautonomous mothers (Haft & Slade, 1989). The power of these representations is evident from the high level of intergenerational correspondence between parental (even grandparental) representations and child security. Recent work by Dozier and colleagues (Dozier, Stovall, & Albus, 2001) illustrates the power of these effects in the context of a natural experiment, following child placement with a foster parent. After only 3 months of placement, there was significant correspondence between children’s attachment security and the foster parents’ AAI classifications, with rates comparable to intact mother–child dyads. Parents’ Representations of Their Children.  While the AAI research confirms the influence of parents’ own childhood representations for their infants’ attachment security, these representations are rather distal to the parent–child relationship in the here and now. Recent attention has been paid to the more proximal role of parents’ representations of their children, of parenting, and of their relationships with their children (Mayseless, 2006), and a number of interviews have been developed to tap into these representations (Aber, Slade, Berger, Bresgi, & Kaplan, 1985; George & Solomon, 1996; Zeanah & Benoit, 1995). These more proximal representational assessments have been employed in low- and high-risk samples (Benoit, Parker, & Zeanah, 1997; Rosenblum et al., 2002), pre- and postnatally (Benoit et al., 1997; Huth Bocks, Levendosky, Theran, & Bogat, 2004), and in healthy or at-risk pediatric populations (Coolbear & Benoit, 1999). In general, parents’ mental representations of their child and of parenting, both pre- and postnatally, are significantly related to their children’s attachment security, at rates comparable to the AAI (Benoit et al., 1997; Huth-Bocks et al., 2004). In addition, parental representations are linked to how parents engage with their infants (Dayton, Levendosky, Davidson, & Bogat, 2007; Slade, Belsky, Aber, & Phelps, 1999; Vizziello, Antonioli, Cocci, & Invernizzi, 1993; Zeanah, Keener, Stewart, & Anders, 1985). Despite the evidence for links between parents’ representations, sensitivity, and in-



fant attachment, results of meta-­analyses of these studies have identified a “transmission gap” (De Wolff & van IJzendoorn, 1997), in that parenting sensitivity explains only 23% of the association between parental and child working models. A number of explanations for this gap have been proposed, including the need to consider other contextual factors and a broader array of caregiving behaviors. At a very proximal level, for example, parent positive affect or delight (e.g., Rosenblum et al., 2002) or the quality of verbal mirroring (Meins et al., 2001) may be more important transmitters of relational security than maternal behavioral sensitivity per se. Nonetheless, current research does suggest that parenting sensitivity is likely to play a critical, albeit less direct role than previously thought. For example, another study indicated that mothers who were not autonomous on the AAI yet had secure infants were more behaviorally sensitive than nonautonomous mothers with insecure infants (Atkinson, Goldberg, & Raval, 2005). From an intervention perspective this finding is particularly intriguing, pointing to our need to know more regarding factors that facilitate sensitive parenting in adults with insecure states of mind.

Reflective Functioning and Insightfulness Reflective functioning is a clinically meaningful concept that refers to the individual’s ability to appropriately attribute mental states and beliefs to others (Fonagy & Target, 1997). Because this capacity includes the ability to understand the motivational forces that underlie behavior, high reflective functioning helps to make infant behavior more meaningful and predictable. Reflective functioning has also been posited to be directly associated with the individuals’ ability to tolerate ambivalent or painful affect without the need to minimize, distort, or split off such unwanted emotional experiences. Thus the parent who has the capacity to engage in reflective functioning is likely to respond to the child’s emotional needs and reactions with openness and acceptance, which in turn foster in the child a sense that both positive and negative emotions are tolerable and can be integrated. The capacity for reflective functioning has been coded both from parents’ adult attachment narratives as well as from interviews

designed to assess parents’ representations of their children, and it has been related to infant attachment security (Fonagy, Steele, Moran, Steele, & Higgitt, 1991; Schechter et al., 2005; Slade, Grienenberger, Bernbach, Levy, & Locker, 2005). Relatedly, the Insightfulness Assessment (IA) is a narrativebased interview designed to assess parents’ insight and empathic understanding of their children’s experiences (Koren-Karie, Oppenheim, & Dolev, 2002). The IA asks parents to observe video recordings of their young child and respond to a series of questions that tap into insightfulness, such as “What do you think your child was thinking or feeling?” Responses to the IA have also been related to child attachment security and parenting sensitivity (Koren-Karie et al., 2002). Parental reflective functioning and insightfulness are evident when parents acknowledge and tolerate complex feelings, acknowledge intergenerational or other contextual influences, display openness and complexity in representations of the child, and search for mental meaning that underlies their own and their child’s behavior. Low reflective functioning is evident when parents only rarely acknowledge feelings or mental states, fail to acknowledge the influence of psychological processes on their own or others’ behavior, or generate extremely stereotyped, action-­versus-emotion-­oriented explanations for behavior. Extant research has underscored the importance of parental reflective functioning for children’s development, particularly in the face of early parental or child adversity or hardship. For example, reflective functioning has been observed to be particularly predictive of child attachment when mothers had experienced significant childhood adversity (Fonagy, Steele, Steele, Higgitt, & Target, 1994), and thus may provide an important psychological buffer that promotes optimal child adjustment and resilience, particularly in the context of risk.

Infant Mental Health Implications The infant mental health field has long appreciated the centrality of the parent–child relationship, and today there are an increasing number of manualized relationship­focused intervention models; evidence for the efficacy of these interventions is accumulating (Berlin, 2005; Sameroff, McDonough,

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& Rosenblum, 2004). What these interventions share is a focus on the assessment and treatment of the infant in a social, relational context. Results of a recent meta-­analysis indicate that infant attachment outcomes are most improved when services are, among other things, delivered to a clearly defined risk population and when the focus is on enhancing parenting sensitivity (Bakermans­K ranenburg, van IJzendoorn, & Juffer, 2003). This emphasis on sensitivity is consistent with research that suggests that outcomes for children with sensitively responsive parents, even if the parents themselves maintain a number of other risk factors, are better than for those who evidence less sensitive parenting. For example, in a large and diverse sample Belsky and Fearon (2002) observed that children with secure attachment histories whose mothers became insensitive during toddlerhood had lower psychosocial functioning scores at 3 years, compared to children with insecure attachment histories whose mothers were sensitive later in development. This finding suggests that more proximal parenting behaviors are highly predictive of child outcomes and can even overcome early insecure attachment histories. Interventions to enhance parenting sensitivity can have important positive effects on children’s social–­emotional outcomes (Bakermans-­K ranenburg et al., 2003), particularly for those parents and infants who are most vulnerable. For example, intervention effects may be strongest for those parents with highly temperamentally reactive infants (Klein Velderman, Bakermans­K ranenburg, & Juffer, 2006). Other comprehensive models of intervention, such as the Circle of Security attachment-based intervention, have also documented treatment efficacy and target not only parenting sensitivity but also parents’ abilities to understand their children’s emotional communications, parents’ mental representations, and parents’ capacity for reflective reasoning about child behavior (Hoffman, Marvin, & Cooper, 2006).

CONCLUSIONS The first years of life are remarkable for the rapid transformations in both the social and emotional domains. New capacities emerge


with regularity, and with the development of newly acquired skills the infant moves toward greater levels of social–­emotional competence. When developmental milestones are met and supported, social–­emotional competence is evident in the young child’s emerging awareness and understanding of his or her own and others’ emotions; capacity for empathic involvement; ability to adaptively cope with aversive emotions and challenging circumstances; open and trusting emotional communication within relationships; ability to rely on others for safety and support; and ability to explore, play, and carry forward a sense of effectance and trust (Saarni, 1999; Sroufe et al., 2005). When developmental milestones for competence in the social and emotional domains are not met, or when the developmental trajectory is set awry, later deficits in the social–­emotional domains are more likely to unfold. The field of infant mental health has long recognized that social–­emotional competence emerges from a dynamic developmental interplay of complex transactions across maturational, environmental, biological, and interpersonal contexts. Assessment and intervention that attend to the infant within this dynamic developmental context are central to returning the young child to, or maintaining him or her on, this powerful track toward increasing social–­emotional competence. References Aber, J. L., Slade, A., Berger, B., Bresgi, I., & Kap­ lan, M. (1985). The Parent Development Interview. Unpublished manuscript. Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the Strange Situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Aristotle. (1941). The basic works of Aristotle (J. I. Beare, Trans.). New York: Random House. Atkinson, L., Goldberg, S., & Raval, V. (2005). On the relation between maternal state of mind and sensitivity in the prediction of infant attachment security. Developmental Psychology, 41(1), 42–53. Auerbach, J., Benjamin, J., Faroy, M., Geller, V., & Ebstein, R. (2001). DRD4 related to infant attention and information processing: A developmental link to ADHD? Psychiatric Genetics, 11(1), 31–35. Auerbach, J., Faroy, M., Ebstein, R., Kahana, M., & Levine, J. (2001). The association of the dopamine D4 receptor gene (DRD4) and the serotonin transporter promoter gene (5-HTTLPR)



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Chapter 6

The Sociocultural Context of Infant Mental Health Toward Contextually Congruent Interventions Chandra Michiko Ghosh Ippen Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Walk beside me that we may be as one. —Ute proverb

Natalia, a 25-year-old mother with postpartum depression, contemplates sending her 5-month-old son back to Mexico to be cared for by his grandparents. Alma, a 17-year-old teenager raised in the foster care system, seems uncooperative with the reunification plan for her 9-month-old daughter but unwilling to give up her daughter. Duane, 27 months old, is in danger of being expelled from preschool because of aggression toward other children. His maternal grandmother, who picks him up from school, appears pleasant but is not able to fully communicate with school staff because her first language is Tagalog. His father is nice but unresponsive to the school’s concerns. These are just some of the families we might meet through our work as infant mental health practitioners. As we endeavor to help them, partnership and dialogue are the cement with which we construct our inter

ventions. Without dialogue, trust in our own values and assumptions can blind us to the real truths of our clients’ lives and lead us to develop interventions that do not match their context or goals. Especially when working with families whose sociocultural context differs from ours, we must recognize that our perspective, including views about safety, parenting, and child behavior, may differ significantly from theirs. The executive summary of From Neurons to Neighborhoods (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000) suggests that poor uptake and high attrition from early childhood programs raise issues regarding the degree to which the services we develop and offer are compatible with the needs and lives of those we seek to serve. As a field, if we are to reduce the growing disparities in access to and quality of services evidenced across multiple systems, we must begin by acknowledging that despite our best intentions and indefatigable efforts, we are failing many. We need to hear their perspective to understand why this may be. 104

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Although perhaps unconventional, my goal is that every aspect of this chapter—the tone, voice, and content—­convey the importance of dialogue, recognizing that the perspective I offer is biased by my experience. Therefore, before you read further and embark on what I hope becomes part of a larger discussion, I thought you should know something about me. I am half East Indian (Bengali) and half Japanese, the child of immigrant parents who moved to the United States as adults and worked as child protective services workers. I was born and raised in San Francisco, grew up middle class but attended private schools, studied to become a psychologist in Los Angeles, and relearned Spanish while working in the schools and homes of Southeast Los Angeles. I now work at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) Child Trauma Research Program, a clinical research program that focuses on understanding how exposure to trauma affects children (ages birth to 5) and investigates the efficacy of child–­parent psychotherapy (Lieberman & Van Horn, 2005), a dyadic, attachment-based, culturally informed treatment for young children exposed to trauma. Our program serves predominantly low-­income, ethnically diverse families. The majority of the caregivers have experienced multiple traumas. Seventy-five percent of our clinical staff speaks Spanish; I am the only non-­Latina Spanish speaker. My cultural heritage and personal experiences created the lens through which I see the world and influence the viewpoint I present in this chapter, in the same way that your culture and experiences shape your response to and reflections on this material. If you take nothing else from this chapter, I hope it is the belief that in order to appreciate the cultural context and worldview of those with whom we work, we must first understand where we come from and how our internal reactions, interpretation of events, and interventions are affected by the contexts in which we developed and function (García Coll & Meyer, 1993; Lewis, 2000; Lieberman, 1990). Our own responses as clinicians and as individuals are always shaped by our context, and we must not only acknowledge our reactions but try to understand why we feel the way we do. How, in the course of our development, were we “taught” to feel this way? Regardless of our answer, when working with


individuals who feel differently, it is essential that we spend the time necessary to engage in a respectful dialogue that helps us to understand their perspective. Intense emotions are often associated with discussions related to culture and diversity, in part because when our group has experienced or perpetrated trauma, discrimination, or oppression, speaking about this reality can be painful. In addition, our values and beliefs shape our reality and to alter them would be to give up the safety of what we know. Rather than deny our reactions, we need to acknowledge that if we feel this way, the families with whom we work likely do too. In addition, we need to recognize that although the dialogue may be difficult, when these things are left unspoken, the difficulty remains and may seriously undermine intervention. This chapter begins with a presentation of population statistics to highlight the increasing need for a focus on diversity. Next, prior discussions of multiculturalism, cultural competence, and cultural sensitivity are reviewed to orient us to the goal of developing interventions that are congruent not only with the family’s culture but with other key contextual factors. Providing information regarding specific groups is beyond the scope of this chapter. Instead, the chapter discusses theoretical models that help maintain a focus on context and on potential differences. It ends with the introduction of a diversity awareness model that can be used to identify diversity-­related conflicts and guide intervention. Throughout the chapter, examples from research and clinical work are provided as food for thought. I hope you will stop and think about each example, share it and discuss it with others. Doing this work requires experience-based knowledge, not just analytical frameworks; it’s about engaging in a dialogue with those who are different from us and expanding the way we think and intervene. Before beginning, I would like to acknowledge that I will likely overlook many important issues, some because of the constraints of space and organization and others because they are outside my contextual awareness. I encourage you to think actively about what applies to you and to those with whom you work and to ask yourself, what is not said when it should be?



THE MULTICULTURAL CONTEXT In 2006 the National Center for Cultural Competence released a tool that allows organizations to assess their cultural and linguistic competence. The instrument begins with two basic questions: (1) Can the agency “identify the culturally diverse communities” in its service area? and (2) Is the agency familiar with “current and projected demographics?” Current U.S. Census data (2005) show an ethnic distribution of 66.9% white, 14.4% Latino/Hispanic, 12.8% black, 4.3% Asian, 1.5% multiracial, 1% American Indian and Alaskan Native, and .2% Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander. Projections, although imperfect (note the lack of projections for multiracial individuals), suggest that by 2050 the distribution will be 52.8% white, 24.3% Latino/Hispanic, 13.2% black, 8.9% Asian, and .8% American Indian and Alaskan Native. For some states, these shifts will be more pronounced. For example, by 2050, California’s Latino population is expected to grow from 15 to 53.6% (U.S. Census, 2000). These statistics have special significance for infant mental health practitioners because birth rates shift before the change is reflected in the census. So we must ask ourselves, are we prepared to serve the infants, toddlers, and preschoolers in our communities? Most discussions about culture inevitably lead to a discussion of socioeconomic status because some ethnic minority groups are more likely to experience economic hardship. U.S. poverty data show that 22.5% of black and 20.8% of Hispanic families live below the poverty level, compared to 5.9% of non­Hispanic white families (Proctor & Dalaker, 2003). Through its interaction with multiple risk factors, poverty influences major aspects of development, including brain development, intellectual and academic functioning, and physical and mental health (Aber, Jones, & Cohen, 2000; Knitzer & Perry, Chapter 8, this volume; Sameroff & Fiese, 2000). Therefore, in adopting a multicultural perspective, we cannot ignore the context of socioeconomic class. However, as noted at the first National Multicultural Conference and Summit (Sue, Bingham, Porché-Burke, & Vasquez, 1999), significant aspects of diversity, such as gender, sexual orientation,

ability and disability, and religious affiliation, must also be incorporated into a multicultural focus, given their association with difference and misunderstanding. Using this criteria, additional factors to consider might include immigration status, acculturation, trauma history, age, and rural versus urban residence. This broadening of the multicultural focus seems both overwhelming and essential: overwhelming because it is difficult to keep all these factors in mind, assess for them, and determine how they impact intervention; essential because each factor contributes to our overall understanding of the “problem” and its potential solutions, and because contextual factors interact to produce a unique reality. Imagine, for example, how assessment and intervention with 27-month-old Duane might shift as you gradually learn the following information. Duane has been referred because he has significant language delays and is in danger of being expelled from preschool for biting peers. His mother, who is African American, lives in another state. His dad, who is first-­generation Filipino American, is his primary caregiver. He is gay and recently moved in with a new partner who is from Nicaragua. This new arrangement enraged Duane’s maternal grandmother who, up until this time, had been supportive of Duane’s father because she felt he was giving her grandson a good home. The context of the larger setting can also not be ignored because working with this family in San Francisco might be different from working with them in Atlanta or Salt Lake City. Where does your mind go first? What questions would you be asking? How might Duane’s context affect his language? Why does he bite? What would you want to know about his family? How about his preschool? What might it mean if he were in a predominantly white or predominantly Asian preschool? How might the teachers’ and the family’s cultural beliefs coincide or conflict on topics such as who is responsible for misbehavior in the school? Why is the city context important? This example is meant to highlight the importance of incorporating a broad multicultural focus. Imagine if we did not create an atmosphere of safety and openness where this information could be shared; our intervention might suffer from a lack of awareness of key contextual factors.

6. The Sociocultural Context of Infant Mental Health

Each new piece of information leads to new questions and hypotheses and to potentially different pathways for intervention. In addition, we must think about how what we learn may provoke reactions in us that have the potential to affect the way we interact with this family. The urgent need for a multicultural focus is expressed in the fourth goal of the Surgeon General’s national action agenda on children’s mental health: to “eliminate racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in access to mental healthcare services” (U.S. Public Health Service, 2000, p.  6). This agenda calls for us to adopt a multicultural perspective in every aspect of our work. We must increase access to “culturally competent, scientifically-­proved services”; establish procedures that engage diverse families; recruit and train providers who represent the diversity of the community; conduct research on diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and service delivery issues to address disparities; and develop policies both in our agencies and in our broader communities that are sensitive to the needs of diverse populations.

CONTEXTUALLY CONGRUENT INTERVENTION As we embrace a multicultural perspective, we must ensure that that our lens is not too narrowly focused on the family and its culture but also includes an examination of the broader context (Brave Heart & Spicer, 2000; Levine et al., 1994; Lieberman, 1990). In our fast-paced world, “cultural competence” is not enough. We need our interventions to be contextually congruent. By this I mean that interventions incorporate a focus not only on culture but also on the family’s history, current situation, and future goals. I use this term not to disregard in any way the importance of culture, not to unnecessarily complicate things, and not because those who have written about culture have ignored context. I do it because I believe that contextual congruence is our true goal, and naming it gives us something for which to strive. Let me share my reasoning. First, we cannot hold too tightly to cultural “truths,” for culture is dynamic in nature and constantly changing. Cultures have always changed,


but in today’s technological world, changes occur even faster than before. Chen, Cen, Li, and He’s (2005) study of shyness across three cohorts of elementary school children in China illustrates this point. In 1990 shyness was associated with academic achievement, peer acceptance, and teacher ratings of competence and leadership. In 1998 the relationship was weaker, and in 2002, shyness was associated with peer rejection, teacher-rated school problems, and depression. This study, although with older children, connects change in social context and economic values, within a relatively homogeneous culture and within the same physical context of Shanghai, to change in cultural values. Migration and contact with other cultural groups can lead to even larger and more rapid changes through the processes of acculturation and assimilation (García Coll, Ackerman, & Cicchetti, 2000). Second, a culturally compatible intervention that ignores changes in context is not competent or congruent with the true needs of the family. For example, in a Japanese family where the father, a businessman, returns home at 11:00 p.m., keeping a toddler up at night so he or she would have a chance to interact with the father would be compatible with cultural beliefs about the importance of family, and with hierarchical values calling for respect of the father’s wishes. In fact, this is often done in Japanese families. However, with changes in the context, the child’s entry into preschool, the beginning of afternoon classes (e.g., music and swimming), and the mother’s participation in English classes for which she has homework, this strategy may lead to sleep deprivation, which in turn may cause problems in affect regulation, increased maternal stress, and problems in the parent–child relationship, any of which might lead to a referral. In most cases, families will shift to accommodate their values and the demands of the situation, but if they do not, and we are called on to help them, we will need to consider the entire context, which includes the family’s values and the demands of the situation. Lastly, as illustrated in the following example, cultural values and situational demands often conflict. Natalia immigrated to the United States from Mexico 2 years ago, fleeing her physically abusive husband and harsh economic circumstances and leaving



her 1-year-old son with her mother. She currently has a 5-month-old son, who is in fulltime day care while she works as a prep cook. She is depressed and appears to take little pleasure in her interactions with her son. He, in turn, shows little connection to her. She is thinking about sending him to Mexico to be cared for by her mother. To help Natalia and her family, we need to understand not only who she is (her culture and personal experiences), but where she is (e.g., financial needs, threats to safety, social position as an illegal immigrant), and her goals for her family’s future. Her culture leads her to value family and the maternal role, yet circumstances require that she work to survive and be able to send money to her son in Mexico. Loss of family support and her view of herself as a “bad mother” make it difficult for her to parent her son in the way she would like and lead her to wonder whether he might be better off without her. After understanding her reality, we might hypothesize that the healing dialogue for Natalia is one that allows her to speak about immigration-­related losses (her son, family, country, and sense of self) and recognize the link between her values and her behavior. By doing this, she may be able to resolve internal fragmentation caused by clashes between her cultural values and her behavior and be able to go from seeing herself as inadequate to viewing herself as a loving and caring mother who is dealing with a difficult reality. This change in self-­perception may, in turn, lead to a change in her ability to parent her son. This does not mean, however, that she will necessarily keep him with her, but there is hope that even if she does send him to Mexico, her ability to connect with her true feelings, have a more compassionate view of herself, and see her relationship with her children as ongoing may make it less likely that she repeats the pattern of having children and then feeling she cannot care for them. In addition, there is hope for the therapist who can view the treatment not as a failure but as helping Natalia to change her attributions of herself and her child even though it could not alter the realities she faces. A holistic approach where the object (the family or culture) is not viewed as separate from the field (the particular situation or context) encourages the development of interventions that are responsive to both and

may be more syntonic with the reality faced by ethnic minorities and groups differing from the majority culture. Gutierrez and Sameroff (1990) found that acculturated Mexican American mothers were more perspectivistic than non-­H ispanic white mothers, meaning that they were more likely to integrate psychological, constitutional, and environmental influences when attempting to understand children’s behavior. Ethnic minorities tend to function in at least two different cultural contexts (Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992). To do this competently, they need to hold multiple perspectives and apply them appropriately to different situations. To match the complexity of their lives, our interventions need to incorporate multiple perspectives. Fortunately, as a field, we are well grounded in context. From its inception, infant mental health has recognized relationships and context as shapers of development (Fitzgerald & Barton, 2000). The Zero to Three Infant Mental Health Task Force (2001, p. 1) defines infant mental health as the “developing capacity of the child from birth to 3 to: experience, regulate, and express emotions; form close relationships; explore the environment and learn . . . all in the context of family, community, and cultural expectations for young children.” Our core values of relationship-based practice, self-­reflection, and reflective supervision (Gilkerson, 2004) lead us toward greater contextual awareness because they help us attend to the dynamic interplay of contextual factors that shape children’s development, to think about our reactions during interactions, and to devote time to reflect on potential differences in a safe and supportive space. The challenge comes from the fact that culture includes attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors that are shared by a group and passed on from generation to generation (Matsumoto, 1997), often without explanation, an “unconscious transmission of adaptive childrearing mechanisms” (Lieberman, 1990, p. 103). In time, we forget why we do what we do, and we take for granted that this is the way things should be. Diversity, by definition, focuses on differences among people in these beliefs, attitudes, values, or behaviors. Thus, when working with those who differ from ourselves on key contextual factors, we are faced with being sensitive or

6. The Sociocultural Context of Infant Mental Health

“competent” when our core, unconscious values may be challenged. Central to most discussions of cultural competence or cultural sensitivity is the need for knowledge of both our own and our clients’ worldviews and assumptions and a valuing of reciprocal, responsive, respectful, relationships (Barrera & Corso, 2002; Lieberman, 1990; Sue, et al., 1992). Sue (1998) highlights the importance of being scientifically minded, forming and testing hypotheses based on what we know, and judiciously integrating knowledge of the family’s cultural context while appreciating individual differences. García Coll and Meyer (1993) offer questions to facilitate the development of a meaningful dialogue: “Is there a problem? Why is there a problem? What can be done? And, who should intervene to address the problem?” (p. 61). They remind us that our clients’ answers may not be the same as ours. Perhaps the most comforting view of the task before us comes from Lieberman (1990), who eloquently notes that cultural sensitivity is akin to attunement and can be viewed as a form of interpersonal sensitivity that involves knowing something about the idiosyncrasies and context of that person and being open to finding out what we don’t know. This return to our relationship-based roots gives us a safe base from which to explore our differences and reminds us that as we do this work, we will focus not only on what we need to fix but on what is strong and protective—both in ourselves and in those with whom we work.

THEORETICAL MODELS As noted at the second National Multicultural Conference and Summit, “there is no one way to conceptualize human behavior, no one theory that captures and explains the realities and experiences of various forms of diversity” (Bingham, Porché-Burke, James, Sue, & Vasquez, 2002, p. 84). This statement honors the complexity of human experience but should not be interpreted as discounting theory. Instead, it calls for a multitheoretical approach to enhance the flexibility of our interventions when we work with diverse populations. Below are models and theoretical perspectives that help us develop contextually congruent interventions. I first propose


a new model that is meant to functions as a lens to help us see and understand different perspectives. I then describe hierarchical and ecological models and discuss how they affect our perception of context and intervention and how they may be viewed using the lens of my model.

Attachment, Culture, and Trauma The attachment, culture, and trauma (ACT) model integrates these domains as three contextual forces that shape development and perception. Whereas attachment and culture are undeniably important to infant mental health, the inclusion of trauma may seem less warranted. However, the prevalence of trauma in the historical past of many ethnic groups and in the current lives of young children justifies its presence in the model. A nationally representative study of married or cohabiting couples estimates that in 1 year, 29.4% of children (15.5 million) experience partner violence (McDonald, Jouriles, Ramisetty-­M ikler, Caetano, & Green, 2006). Although this study does not include child age, others have found that children ages 0–5 are more likely to witness domestic violence (Fantuzzo, Boruch, Beriama, & Atkins, 1997) than older children. The same is true of abuse and neglect. Child maltreatment data show that in 2005, 3.6 million children experienced a child protective services (CPS) investigation; and children ages 0–3 had the highest rates of victimization (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2007). The need to include trauma in the model is underscored by research demonstrating the long-term effects of exposure. Scheeringa, Zeanah, Myers, and Putnam (2005) found unremitting symptoms and functional impairment 2 years after an initial assessment revealed symptoms in trauma-­exposed children ages 20 months to 6 years. Moreover, adverse childhood experiences (ACE), including abuse and witnessing domestic violence, have been found to predict the leading causes of adult death and disability (Felitti et al., 1998) and have been found to be more prevalent in certain ethnic minority groups (Koss et al., 2003). The content of ACT is not new. Developmental science asserts that “human development is shaped by dynamic and continuous interactions between biology and experi-



ence,” and “culture influences every aspect of human development” (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000, p. 3). We have learned how trauma alters the developmental trajectory (Cicchetti, Toth, & Maughan, 2000; Pynoos, Steinberg, & Piacentini, 1999). Researchers and clinicians have clearly discussed the connection between attachment and trauma (Hesse & Main, 2006; Lieberman, 2004), attachment and culture (van IJzendoorn & Sagi, 1999), and trauma and culture (DeVries, 1996; Lewis & Ghosh Ippen, 2004). What is new is the joining of these forces and examination of how interactions among them may shape behavior, feelings, and thoughts, including beliefs and values (see Figure 6.1). Cole, Tamang, and Shrestha’s (2006) study of emotion socialization in two Nepalese cultures, the Tamang and Brahman, demonstrates how hidden interactions among attachment, culture, and trauma can shape values, behaviors, and expression of feelings. Interviews with elders and observations of interactions with 3- to 5-year-old children showed that in response to anger, Tamang caregivers were more likely to disapprove, rebuke, or tease the child, whereas Brahmans were more likely to nurture, reason, or coax the child to feel better. In contrast, Tamang were more likely to react to children’s shame by teaching and nurturing, whereas Brahmans ignored almost 75% of instances of shame. Why would these two groups re-

spond differently to anger and shame? Why, as noted by the authors, would the Tamang appear to be cultivating self-­effacement? Through Western eyes, the Tamang and Brahman look similar. They live in the same area, subsist on what they farm, and would both be categorized as collectivistic, valuing group harmony over autonomy and individual interests. However, they differ in social status and religion. The majority culture of Nepal is Hindu, and Brahmans are highcaste Hindus. Tamang are Buddhist and as a minority group are subjected to racism and prejudice. Looking at the realities of presentday Nepal provides some explanation for the difference in emotion socialization practices, but history makes these differences seem not only understandable but adaptive and necessary for survival. In the 18th century, after the Gorkhali conquest of Nepal, land was stripped from the Tamang and given to the Brahmin and Chhetri classes. The Tamang were made to work the land they had owned as bonded laborers and near-­slaves (Tamang, n.d.). In 1856 Nepali civil code established the Tamang as Sudra or Dalits, a low caste in the Hindu system, which meant that they could be enslaved or killed (Bhattachan, 2003; Tamangsamaj.com, n.d.). This code remained in place until 1962. By understanding this history, we see how trauma shaped cultural beliefs about emotions and parental responsiveness to child behavior.


Thoughts Am I safe? Am I loveable?

Anger Sadness Feelings

Discipline Parenting Behavior



FIGURE 6.1.  ACT model.

6. The Sociocultural Context of Infant Mental Health

A powerful example that further demonstrates interconnections among attachment, culture, and trauma is shared by Bradshaw, Schore, Brown, Poole, and Moss (2005, p. 807): The air explodes with the sound of high­powered rifles, and the startled infant watches his family fall to the ground, the image seared into his memory. He and other orphans are then transported to distant locales to start new lives. Ten years later, the teenaged orphans begin a killing rampage, leaving more than a hundred victims.

The story is “Elephant Breakdown,” the tale of young elephants who witnessed their parents’ death and grew up to kill rhinoceroses. It is a true story. While elephants are a metaphor for humans, their story provides a clear example of how trauma can produce disruptions in attachment and culture that can lead to social, relational, and psychological pathology. Elephant society by nature is matriarchal, characterized by close extended family. From birth to age 1, mothers and a network of female caregivers constantly snuggle and touch the infant. During the first 8 years of life, elephants generally remain within 15 feet of their mothers. Trauma and loss caused by elephant poachings have disrupted these close attachments and have nearly destroyed elephant culture, which involved numerous rituals and traditions, including the socialization of adolescent males through older all-male groups. The result is both surprising and expected. The loss of that which has been traditionally valued and organizing disrupts their world. The elephants show signs of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex trauma, including abnormal startle, unpredictable asocial behavior, depression, and hyperaggression. Elephants have been attacking humans and each other. In parks with trauma­affected elephants, 90% of male deaths are attributable to other males, compared to 6% in stabler communities. The lessons learned from the Nepalese study and the elephants are relevant to our work as infant mental health practitioners because they teach us that present-day interactions (parent to child and practitioner to family) are shaped by ACT forces and by history. They help us see that the ghosts are


not only in the nursery (Fraiberg, Adelson, & Shapiro, 1975) but in our society. The legacy of historical trauma persists in sociocultural contexts fraught with poverty, racism, discrimination, and oppression because these processes serve as reminders that the horrors, which often remain unspoken, are not yet fully banished from reality. Thus before we attempt to change parental behaviors that are not consistent with the way we want things to be—­behaviors we might label as “controlling,” “intrusive,” “withdrawn,” or “resistant”—we must understand that they likely evolved as part of, and may continue to serve, a protective function. As we develop interventions for families whose sociocultural context differ from ours, we will need to assess for historical and present-day realities linked to threat, fear, sadness, and anger, and we will need to facilitate dialogue about those undesirable realities when it seems appropriate and relevant. In addition, interventions that incorporate and embrace the original strengths of a cultural group may be especially meaningful and effective. In our work with young children whose fathers have beaten their mothers, we have seen how urgently many of these children have needed to claim some good part of their fathers. It is as if they are telling us, “If my father is all bad, and I am half my father, then I am bad, so I need some part of him to be good if I am to be good.” The same may be true of culture. We all need to know that we came from a group that is or was strong and good. So, at the same time that we look for “angels in the nursery” (Lieberman, Padrón, Van Horn, & Harris, 2005), we must also look for the angels in our cultural history, our ancestral angels. Oyate Ptayela (“taking care of the nation”), a parenting curriculum for Lakota families, exemplifies this approach (Brave Heart & Spicer, 2000). The intervention fosters healing from historical trauma through a return to indigenous beliefs, including Woope Sakowin (“the seven sacred laws”), tiospaye (“extended family”), and lena wakan heca, the belief that children are sacred—gifts from the Creator. The following case example shows how these principles may be integrated into treatment. Paula, a 33-year-old therapist, struggled to understand Alma, a 17-year-old teenager



who did not want her baby but refused to give her up. Alma displayed an inability to connect with her daughter, Lucia, despite Paula’s best interventions. It was only after a home visit where Paula noticed a small basket that Alma had woven as part of an art class that Alma began to speak of her past. Her mother, who was part Navajo and used to live on the reservation, knew how to make baskets. Alma usually ignored that part of her heritage because she was mostly Mexican and had spent most of her youth in and out of foster homes, while her mother alternated between desperately seeking her and deciding she could not keep her. Alma and Paula discussed how this pattern was connected to the historical trauma of Indian boarding schools, which were an effort to “civilize” Indian children by forcibly separating them from their families and their culture. Alma began to understand her mother’s rejection of her in light of historical, cultural factors. Slowly, in the intersection of attachment, culture, and trauma, Alma’s ambivalence toward Lucia became understandable, not just to Paula but to Alma. Alma was able to speak of the difficulties she imagined her mother had faced and to link the alcoholism and domestic violence she had seen in her town to its traumatic roots. She began to carry Lucia in a sling, and she noted that maybe her great-great-­grandmother had carried her baby in a similar way.

Hierarchical Models What do we need? What are our goals? What motivates us? Hierarchical models categorize our answers to these questions and arrange the resulting groupings into steps. Maslow’s (1954) hierarchy of needs, the best-known hierarchical model, places physiological needs at the base, followed by safety, belongingness, self-­esteem, and self­actualization. Each step represents a potential target of intervention. As infant mental health practitioners, we must recognize that our hierarchies consciously and unconsciously shape our interventions. Consider the question: What is the goal of treatment? We provide case management when we think that physiological needs are not met and target the relationship when we feel that the child’s need for safety or belongingness is thwarted. In general, this approach makes

sense. However, before acting, we must consider the family’s value hierarchy and determine whether our values are consistent with theirs. We may target one step when they are on another, we may ignore a value fundamental to their hierarchy, or we may differ in our core values and thus differ in our expectations of parenting behavior and child development. As we do our work, we must recognize that all models are biased by context. Maslow’s hierarchy, for example, one of the preeminent models in the field of psychology, is a product of historical, cultural, and personal events. Maslow first proposed his paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation,” in 1943, when the world was learning about the Holocaust. Milgram and Kohlberg linked their respective studies on obedience to authority and human morality to their need to understand the atrocities of World War II (Schwartz, 2004). Maslow, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants who came to the United States at the turn of the 20th century, was motivated by the same events to find the good in human beings. However, the needs he selected and the order in which he placed them were influenced by his experience. His placement of belongingness in the middle of the hierarchy may be related to his childhood, which he described in the following way: “I was a terribly unhappy boy. My family was a miserable family and my mother was a horrible creature. I grew up in libraries and among books without friends” (as cited in Hoffman, 1988, p.  1). The absence of religion and spirituality in Maslow may be a product of the anti-­Semitism he endured and his reaction to his mother’s threats that God would strike him down if he misbehaved. His focus on self-­esteem and self­actualization echoes Jewish teachings that value personal responsibility, a related but autonomous self, and the pursuit of knowledge through study (Borowitz, 1984). In a journal entry dated March 7, 1968, Maslow wrote: “My whole value-laden philosophy of science could certainly be called Jewish—at least by my personal definition. I certainly wasn’t aware of it then” (as cited in Hoffman, 1988, p. 306). In the field of infant mental health, we might design a hierarchy where belongingness occupies a more fundamental position, given the link between attachment and healthy infant

6. The Sociocultural Context of Infant Mental Health

development and the fact that in infancy, attachment is linked to safety and to the ability to get physiological needs met. However, our definitions of belongingness may vary based on our context. How connected should we be? In what ways do we connect? Schulze, Harwood, and Schoelmerich’s (2001) study of non-­Hispanic white and Puerto Rican mother–­infant dyads demonstrates how differences in parental values translate to differences in child behaviors. Interviews revealed cultural differences in values: Non-­H ispanic whites endorsed goals related to autonomy, whereas Puerto Ricans valued goals associated with relatedness. These differences were reflected in the self-­feeding behavior of their 12-month-old infants: Videotaped observations showed that 81.4% of non-­H ispanic white infants self-fed, in comparison to 3.6% of Puerto Ricans. Fernald and Morikawa’s (1993) study of mother–­infant play behaviors in Japanese and American dyads shows how differences in socialization goals can translate to differences in mother–child play interactions. They found that American mothers were more likely to label objects and use play to promote linguistic competence, whereas Japanese mothers were more likely to use play in a way that fostered social and polite interactions. If we were to intervene with either a Japanese or an American dyad, would our socialization goal and the intervention that stems from it be compatible with theirs and with the problem? The answer to this question may vary depending on the problem that brings us together; say, aggressive behavior, autism, or a language delay. In all cases, it would be important that we not impose a treatment that would alter parent– child interactions to match our intervention goals without first speaking with the family about their goals. Beyond culture, trauma and subsequent secondary adversities can affect both the individual’s ability to achieve basic needs and the subjective perception of whether a need has been met. This effect was evident in the treatment of Marissa, a 34-month-old African American girl referred to a Los Angeles clinic with her foster-­mother, Denise. Marissa was placed with Denise when she was 10 months old. As Denise described, she always had all the food and care she needed, but she hoarded food, and they often found her


eating trash from the garbage. Denise felt that this behavior reflected poorly on her. She worried that others would think she had not “done right” by Marissa. Initially, treatment focused on strengthening Marissa and Denise’s strained relationship, but Marissa would not engage. She persisted in dumping out all the toys (dishes, food, animals) and then stared into space and became disorganized. A newspaper clipping sent by Denise’s caseworker provided an important clue to this behavior. It detailed Marissa’s history. As an infant, she was severely neglected and was found surrounded by trash, which she appeared to have eaten in order to survive. With this information, treatment shifted from encouraging her to play to following her play. It became clear that the piles of toys with which she surrounded herself recreated her original life. In stealing food, she showed us that her body remembered the time when she did not have food. Her foster mother’s distress about her food issues affected her sense of safety and her ability to connect. It was not enough to focus on the fact that her context had shifted. We needed to see that her need was real, given her context. To summarize, hierarchical models provide a framework for organizing our values and for thinking about levels and targets of intervention. Contextual forces can influence the organization of our hierarchies, the way we select the needs that comprise them, and our perceptions of whether needs have been met. Ecological models, presented in the next section, show how forces outside of us influence our perceptions of whether we can reach our goals and lead us to wonder how we can obtain what we want for ourselves and our children, given the society and environment in which we exist.

Ecological Models In calling psychology the “science of the strange behavior of children in strange situations with strange adults for the briefest possible periods of time,” Bronfenbrenner (1977, p.  513) challenged the field to view children in the contexts in which they exist and the way they shape development. He defined the question as “How are intrafamilial processes affected by extrafamilial conditions?” (Bronfenbrenner, 1986, p.  723). In



other words, how does our environment, real, perceived, and remembered, influence the way in which we socialize our children to survive in the world. Bronfenbrenner stressed that individuals exist in multiple ecological contexts. Each setting can impact development, as can interactions among settings. His model organizes contexts in nested systems. The microsystem includes the immediate setting in which the individual is found (e.g., family, school, home). The mesosystem includes interrelationships among settings, and the exosystem encompasses settings that indirectly affect us, even when we are not part of them. For example, city funding may affect clinic policies, which may affect the family’s treatment, or the media (e.g., Disney) may affect the way the child perceives herself. Macrosystems are prototypes, blueprints that shape human development, much like hierarchies. At the mesosystem level, when settings where the young child lives differ in their values, conflicts may ensue that can affect development. Take, for example, the following quote from a preschool director cited in a study by Parmar, Harkness, and Super (2004, p. 102): “Asian kids are very quiet in the classroom settings. I think their parents are very pushy at home and also they have very high expectations from their preschoolers, which I do not think does any good, but we help them to be themselves here.” How might the parents feel upon hearing the director’s words? Even if the director never says these words to the parents, is this message unconsciously transmitted? What happens if the child begins to behave in a louder, “free” way at home? García Coll and colleagues (1996) proposed an integrative model that focuses on three aspects of context that are usually ignored: (1) social position (race, social class, ethnicity, and gender); (2) racism, prejudice, discrimination, and oppression; and (3) segregation (residential, economic, social, and psychological). They suggest that these pathways create the unique experience of multicultural groups and shape their children’s development. Although the majority of the differences discussed thus far in the chapter have involved nonmalicious differences in perspective, before ending this chapter I consider the prevalence of racism, including

institutional racism, discrimination, and oppression in today’s society. Only by acknowledging the fact that a wound continues to exist can a healing dialogue begin. Slavery was abolished on April 16, 1862, but reminders of historical trauma and actual experience of trauma, racism, discrimination, and oppression persist for African Americans and many other groups. The Tuskegee syphilis study, a 40-year experiment where 399 black men were denied treatment for syphilis so that scientists could study the disease’s natural progression, ended in 1972. Official government recognition of the horrific nature of this study came only in 1997 with Clinton’s presidential apology (Gamble, 1997). The diagnosis of homosexuality was removed from the second edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1973, yet a new category of “sexual orientation disturbance” remained until 1980, and the homosexuality diagnosis was not removed from the Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders (ICD) until 1992 (Mendelson, 2003). Indian boarding school ended in the 1930s but was followed by U.S. tribal termination policies, which removed tribal lands and rights. The struggle to regain what was lost continues today. These are a few examples out of a multitude selected specifically because they show how our society, not just individuals, has shaped the context. They also demonstrate that these wounds are not ancient history; some have occurred within our lifetime. The lack of governmental response to Hurricane Katrina and the overrepresentation of African American and Native American children in our foster care system make the reality of racism and oppression current events (Casey Family Programs, n.d.). Ogbu’s (1981) cultural–­ecological model suggests that parents are aware of these hostile contexts. They want their children to survive and thrive, so they teach them the skills necessary to navigate their context. Different contexts require different skills. You cannot judge a skill without knowing its context. In a situation in which a bully physically assaults our child, we may teach our child to fight. If we expect that people will one day judge our children based on the color of their skin or the texture of their hair,

6. The Sociocultural Context of Infant Mental Health

Diversity Awareness Model

then we might teach them about that reality. Interviews with parents of African American preschoolers showed that the majority used racial socialization messages: 88.8% spoke to their youngsters about racial pride, 74.1% discussed spirituality, 66.5% talked about bias, and 64.8% conveyed messages related to mistrust (Caughy, O’Campo, Randolph, & Nickerson, 2002). Parents who shared these messages with their children reported fewer behavior problems, suggesting that dialogue about context may be protective. This study and the historical facts noted above emphasize that the unpleasant, historical past that most of us would like to forget is experienced as an ever-­present ecological reality for many. Trauma is kept alive through these reminders, and it continues to influence relationships between parents and children and among cultural groups. If we accept that this reality is true, then we must ask, “Is dialogue about this ever-­present reality part of our interventions?” Is it part of our conceptualization, supervision, and interactions with families? If not, what is the reason and how does our silence in this area impact intervention and outcome?

Clinician’s Experience


Bingham et al. (2002) discuss the importance of engaging in difficult dialogues. To do this requires two basic conditions: (1) that we recognize that there is a dialogue to be had, and (2) that we create sufficient safety and time to allow the discussion to proceed. A visual model (see Figure 6.2) may also guide our thinking. Because the work and the truth generally lie in the intersections, the model is based on a Venn diagram, a mathematical image depicting relationships. Each circle represents a different context or perspective. Our work involves intersections between self, client, and supervisor. The work is also affected by the system (e.g., clinic) and society, and, when there are multiple clients (e.g., child and parent), by the multiple client contexts. As infant mental health practitioners, we guide others on their journey. Generally, the course and its passage are smooth. However, differences in perspectives may lead to rocky intersections. When there is a conflict, we first determine which circles in the model are involved. Physiological arousal within our own bodies signals our involvement and

Client’s Experience

Supervisor’s Experience

System’s Experience

Cultural Context

FIGURE 6.2.  Diversity awareness model.



suggests that before we proceed, we need to understand our own reactions and context. When we “own” the issue, the correct intervention may be introspection. When the issue divides us from our clients, the most useful course may become clear only after considering the full map—the hierarchies, contexts, and forces of ACT that have shaped each participant’s current position. By doing this, we may be better able to develop contextually congruent interventions; interventions that guide family members in a way that is responsive to where they are, where they’ve come from, and where they hope to go. To show how this type of process might unfold, I share an example from my work with Jason, a 3-year-old African American boy whose parents separated after a long history of mutual domestic violence. Jason kicked and hit adults and children. He was in danger of being expelled from day care. His mother worried that he would grow up and be like his father. For these reasons, I was surprised when, in response to Jason telling us that he hit another child because that child hit him, Jasmine, his mother, said, “Good—I’m glad you taught him.” I intervened awkwardly, suggesting that she did not mean this and that she wanted Jason to learn other ways of dealing with children, but she looked at me and said “No, he has to learn how to defend himself. If [child’s name] doesn’t stop, I’ll go down there myself and teach him not to mess with my kid.” A rift between us was created. I went home wondering how she could be this way. Hitting was incompatible with the way I was raised. Adults were supposed to protect children. In my own private school history I had witnessed only one physical fight, and the adults had intervened immediately. Jasmine, in turn, felt judged and misunderstood. Fortunately, we had a solid prior relationship. We met alone, and I asked how she felt about Jason’s being hit. The question prompted a flood of information. She felt that the teachers did nothing to protect her son because they viewed him as a bully. She remembered how other kids used to tease her when she was little because she had hives. She wanted her son to be able to protect himself. Indeed, he needed to be able to protect himself because he was growing up as a black boy in the United States.

She couldn’t afford to have him “be soft.” As she spoke, I could see how differences in our contexts had led to differences in our approach, but we shared a common goal: to keep Jason safe. As I echoed her desire to protect Jason, we reconnected. We considered how her history affected both her desire to have Jason defend himself and her fear when he behaved aggressively. We explored Jason’s context of witnessing violence and his fear of his own aggression. Jasmine began to say that Jason was little. Perhaps it was too early and self-­defense could begin at age 6. I, in turn, acknowledged the reality that some day he would need to learn self­protection skills. One last example shows the way a supervisor and trainee used the diversity awareness model to facilitate joint reflection about differences in perspectives. Vanessa, a therapist in training who is originally from Nicaragua, expressed frustration with her client Eva, an immigrant from Honduras. Eva had brought in papers for Vanessa to translate, and Vanessa had felt that the request interfered with their work. The supervisor and Vanessa both reflected on Vanessa’s perspective. Eva’s 2-year-old son Juan showed serious developmental delays and signs of depression, and Vanessa wanted to begin parent–child play sessions, which she thought would help Juan. They then began to think about Eva’s perspective, including the meaning of the papers for her. Vanessa shared that the papers were a jury summons and noted that she thought that was odd because Eva should not be eligible for jury duty (she is not a U.S. citizen). As she said this out loud, Vanessa and the supervisor both began wondering about how Eva might have felt about being asked to go to court, given that for her, court may be associated with deportation. “I can’t believe I didn’t see this, and I’ve had family members go through it,” said Vanessa. As she looked at the intersection, she saw multiple realities: her own desire to help this family, the mother’s stress about a situation that threatened her family’s safety, and the son’s need to connect with his mother. These examples provide a glimpse of how we might use this model to help us process diversity-­related conflicts. The model helps us focus on the multiple perspectives involved and the contexts that shaped them.

6. The Sociocultural Context of Infant Mental Health

The hope is that by doing this we can return to a strengths-based conceptualization that recognizes that although a given reaction may not be desirable, in light of the person’s experiences of attachment, culture, and trauma, it is completely reasonable and expected.

SUMMARY This chapter is just a beginning. There is much left unsaid, particularly about the dimensions along which groups differ (e.g., collectivism, fatalism, personal vs. group responsibility) and how these differences are related to key behaviors salient to our field (e.g., play, praise, emotional socialization, control) and to intervention. There are more than 100 studies that I wanted to include in this chapter. Perhaps my inability to “say it all” parallels our inability to “teach it all” to the families with whom we work. The truth, as I am slowly learning, is that our work does not rest on what we teach but on how we relate (Pawl & St. John, 1998). Through dialogue, we help families reflect on their context, so that they are able to choose the direction they want for their lives. In Western tradition we often believe that there is a single truth, a “Holy Grail.” A holistic approach helps us embrace dialectics: times when multiple truths are equally valid. Dialectics help us reconcile, transcend, and accept apparent contradictions (Nisbett, Peng, Choi, & Norenzayan, 2001). The ACT model is meant to function as a lens that helps clarify and validate alternate perspectives. The diversity awareness model was designed to help us visually contemplate interactions among ourselves, our clients, and larger systems, and to think about how we each may hold different but equally valid perspectives. By exploring realities different from our own, we can help those with whom we work move forward in a way that is congruent with their context. This chapter itself is a journey, so to come full circle, I end with words from my cultural heritage. The Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore said, “If you shut the door to all errors, truth will be shut out.” Mistakes and misunderstandings are inevitable, but our response to them can transform the experience. The last word comes from my Obaa-


chama, my Japanese grandmother, a small woman whose voice rang through the house as she watched sumo wrestling: ganbatte! It is a battle cry, an encouraging call to act that says that we are together as we tackle the challenge of integrating context into all aspects of our work. It means, “Go for it!” “Do your best,” “Work hard,” “Good luck,” “Keep at it.” Ganbatte. References Aber, J. L., Jones, S., & Cohen, J. (2000). The impact of poverty on the mental health and development of very young children. In C. H. Zeanah, Jr. (Ed.), Handbook of infant mental health (2nd ed., pp. 113–128). New York: Guilford Press. Barrera, I., & Corso, R. M. (2002). Cultural competency as skilled dialogue. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 22(2), 103–113. Bhattachan, K. B. (2003). Indigenous nationalities and minorities of Nepal. Retrieved February 14, 2008, from nipforum.org/bhattachan_report. pdf. Bingham, R. P., Porché-Burke, L., James, S., Sue, D. W., & Vasquez, M. J. T. (2002). Introduction: A report on the National Multicultural Conference and Summit II. Cultural Diversity and Ethic Minority Psychology, 8(2), 75–87. Borowitz, E. B. (1984). The autonomous Jewish self. Modern Judaism, 4(1), 39–56. Bradshaw, G. A., Schore, A. N., Brown, J. L., Poole, J. H., & Moss, C. J. (2005). Elephant breakdown. Social trauma: Early disruption can affect the physiology, behavior, and culture of animals and humans over generations. Nature, 433, 807. Brave Heart, M. Y., & Spicer, P. (2000). The sociocultural context of American Indian infant mental health. In J. D. Osofsky & H. E. Fitzgerald (Eds.), World Association of Infant Mental Health handbook of infant mental health (pp. 153–179). New York: Wiley. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1977). Toward an experimental ecology of human development. American Psychologist, 32, 513–531. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1986). Ecology of the family as a context for human development: Research perspectives. Developmental Psychology, 22(6), 723–742. Casey Family Programs. (n.d.). Child welfare fact sheet. Retrieved April 17, 2007, from www.casey. org/MediaCenter/MediaKit/FactSheet.htm. Caughy, M. O., O’Campo, P. J., Randolph, S. M., & Nickerson, K. (2002). The influence of racial socialization practices on the cognitive and behavioral competence of African American preschoolers. Child Development, 73(5), 1611–1625. Chen, X., Cen, G., Li, D., & He, Y. (2005). Social functioning and adjustment in Chinese children: The imprint of historical time. Child Development, 76(1), 182–195.



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Nisbett, R. E., Peng, K., Choi, I., & Norenzayan, A. (2001). Culture and systems of thought: Holistic versus analytic cognition. Psychological Review, 108(2), 291–310. Ogbu, J. U. (1981). Origins of human competence: A cultural–­ecological perspective. Child Development, 52(2), 413–429. Parmar, P., Harkness, S., & Super, C. M. (2004). Asian and Euro-­A merican parents’ ethnotheories of play and learning: Effects on preschool children’s home routines and school behaviour. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 28(2), 97–104. Pawl, J., & St. John, M. (1998). How you are is as important as what you do in making positive differences for infants, toddlers, and their families. Washington, DC: Zero to Three Press. Proctor, B., & Dalaker, J. (2003). Current population reports, P60-222, poverty in the United States: 2002. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau. Pynoos, R. S., Steinberg, A. M., & Piacentini, J. C. (1999). A developmental model of childhood traumatic stress and intersection with anxiety disorders. Biological Psychiatry, 46, 1542–1554. Sameroff, A. J., & Fiese, B. H. (2000). Models of development and developmental risk. In C. H. Zeanah, Jr. (Ed.), Handbook of infant mental health (2nd ed., pp. 3–19). New York: Guilford Press. Scheeringa, M. S., Zeanah, C. H., Myers, L., & Putnam, F. W. (2005). Predictive validity in a prospective follow-up of PTSD in preschool children. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 44(9), 899–906. Schulze, P. A., Harwood, R. L., & Schoelmerich, A. (2001). Feeding practices and expectations among middle-class Anglo and Puerto Rican mothers of 12-month-old infants. Journal of Cross-­C ultural Psychology, 32(4), 397–406. Schwartz, E. (2004). Why some ask why. Social psychologists, Kohlberg (1927–1986) and Milgram (1933–1984) dramatically broadened our understanding of how “ordinary people” can end up doing terrible things; Holocaust survivors. Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought. Retrieved May 5, 2007, from www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-133233195. html.


Shonkoff, J. P., & Phillips, D. A. (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Sue, D. W., Arredondo, P., & McDavis, R. J. (1992). Multicultural counseling competencies and standards: A call to the profession. Journal of Counseling and Development, 70, 477–486. Sue, D. W., Bingham, R. P., Porché-Burke, L., & Vasquez, M. (1999). The diversification of psychology: A multicultural revolution. American Psychologist, 54(12), 1061–1069. Sue, S. (1998). In search of cultural competence in psychotherapy and counseling. American Psychologist, 53(4), 440–448. Tamang, R. (n.d.). Nepal Tamang Ghedung. Retrieved February 13, 2008, from www.tamangs. com/tmgorgs.htm. Tamangsamaj.com (n.d.). About Tamang. Retrieved February 13, 2008, from www.tamangsamaj. com/about_tamang.php. U.S. Census Bureau. (2000). Projections of the resident population by race, Hispanic origin, and nativity: Middle Series, 2005 to 2007. Retrieved January 20, 2007, from www.census.gov/population/projections/nation/summary/np-t5-g.pdf. U.S. Census Bureau. (2005). U.S.A. Quick facts. Retrieved March 20, 2007, from quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2007). Child maltreatment 2005. Retrieved June 1, 2007, from www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ cb/pubs/cm05/cm05.pdf. U.S. Public Health Service. (2000). Report of the Surgeon General’s conference on children’s mental health: A national action agenda. Washington, DC: Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved April 11, 2007, from www. surgeongeneral.gov/topics/cmh/childreport.htm. van IJzendoorn, M. H., & Sagi, A. (1999). Cross cultural patterns of attachment: Universal and contextual dimensions. In J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications (pp. 713–734). New York: Guilford Press. Zero to Three Infant Mental Health Task Force. (2001). What is infant mental health? Retrieved April 11, 2007, from www.healthychild.ucla. edu/First5CAReadiness/Conferences/materials/ InfantMH.definition.pdf.

Chapter 7

Applying Research Findings on Early Experience to Infant Mental Health Thomas G. O’Connor David B. Parfitt


he extent to which, and the mechanisms by which, early experiences carry long-term implications for development and psychopathology are rudimentary topics with substantial implications for how infant mental health is practiced and conceptualized. Substantial progress has been made in understanding the impact of early experiences and exposures on mental health; but important uncertainties remain, and there continues to be a good deal of debate in the area. Our goals in this chapter are to review some of the central concepts and research findings concerning the “early experiences” debate and to consider their application to infant mental health. Along the way, we consider the leading theoretical positions and a variety of methodological paradigms and approaches, emphasizing the literature on humans but making inevitable reference to animal work. Throughout, we attend to some of the more major themes that characterize research and thinking in this area, such as translational research and the adoption of biopsychosocial and biobehavioral models.

DEVELOPING MODELS OF EARLY EXPERIENCE A basic developmental question asked by clinicians, scientists, parents, and poets is, To what extent do early experiences of the infant—both the good and the bad— carry long-term significance? If there are long-term effects on the psychology and/or biology of the individual, then how do we understand how these are carried forward in time? Knowledge about these issues has substantial influence on the practice of infant mental health and on the placement of infant mental health in the broader context of public health and prevention. Before addressing the early experience or exposure question, it is first helpful to note the robust evidence for small- to moderatesized stabilities in individual differences on behavioral traits; examples include temperament and behavioral adjustment from early childhood to adulthood, including even prediction of adult occupational functioning (e.g., Caspi, 2000). This modest degree of intraindividual or rank-order stability from early childhood is an important ingredient 120

7. Research Findings on Early Experience

for conceptualizing how experiences may alter an individual’s life-­course trajectory because it helps set some parameters on how much an individual’s trajectory may be altered. Although this modest degree of rankorder stability is impressive, it does imply that there is a great deal that is unstable or not predicted (or predictable). More pertinent to this volume is the observation that long-term prediction of behavioral outcomes from infancy is difficult. In fact, most of the studies showing substantial stability in behavioral patterns from early development did so based on assessments that occurred well past infancy, as in the case of the Caspi paper (2000) and Kagan and Moss (1962/1983) in their classic study. If there are examples of prediction from infancy (e.g., behavioral inhibition; Kagan, Snidman, Kahn, & Towsley, 2007), they are small in number. What does the apparent lack of intraindividual instability from infancy or, more broadly, the first 3 or so years of life mean? It may imply, for example, a great degree of plasticity or susceptibility to environmental input in infancy; immaturity of psychobiological systems that carries no particular significance for understanding development or susceptibility to environmental input; and/ or simply weak measurement of relevant phenotypes in infancy. Even if there are few examples of behavioral stability from infancy, there are compelling examples of how infant or prenatal exposures have lasting effects. In the case of nutrition, folic acid has been shown to dramatically alter physical development (e.g., MRC Vitamin Study Research Group, 1991); in the case of chemical exposures, lead exposure predicts later cognitive ability (Canfield et al., 2003). Aside from the obvious public health relevance, what makes the studies on folic acid and lead exposure especially compelling is that they imply a clear effect of timing of exposure and persistence of effect following exposure (or lack of exposure, in the case of folic acid). A hypothesis now being examined in some detail is whether stress exposure can be thought of in similar ways. If early stress exposure did have a lasting effect on the individual in a causal way, then there would be dramatic implications for developmental theory, and infant mental health would have a prime public health


status. This is the kind of question that is perhaps of most relevance to mental health clinicians working with young children, and it is the focus for the remainder of the chapter.

Assessing the Effects of Early Experience One reason why the early experience debate has persisted and has generated such a diversity of opinion is that there are few human studies that are designed to test early experience hypotheses. That is not to say that we do not have careful, detailed follow-up studies of children exposed to major early stressors and traumas; there are many of these. Instead, the limitation is that, in most circumstances, early risk exposures—­poverty, poor parenting, parental mental illness, family conflict—are not limited to early development or precisely timed (at any point in development). In fact, most environmental risks of clinical interest are continuous and remarkably intransigent. As a result, isolating the effect of early experiences per se is not possible; relatedly, it has been difficult to isolate the effects of adversity at later points in development during which there may be important normative shifts, such as puberty. Many empirical examples could be cited here; child–­parent attachment is particularly illustrative. In the impressive 20-year followup reported by Waters, Merrick, Treboux, Crowell, and Albersheim (2000), infants who had a secure attachment relationship with their mother were described as coherent and secure in the way that they talked about their parental relationships as young adults. That finding does not imply that it is the early attachment that was formative; it is just as likely that the accumulation of “secure-­ogenic” parenting for many years—­ secure attachment is moderately stable—led to the secure behavior seen in the adults. Disentangling the impact of early attachment experiences from subsequent attachment experiences has been a perennial difficulty; even studies that take advantage of naturally occurring changes in infant’s/children’s attachment quality (Belsky & Fearon, 2002) are unable to rule out important confounding factors or selection effects. The difficulties of sorting out the role of early experience are compounded by the tendency for most major stressors, such as the



ones noted above, to overlap concurrently and longitudinally (a high degree of overlap is just as true for protective factors). However sophisticated the data analysis is, it is simply not possible to disentangle causes and effects that are, by their nature, interwoven in development. And, even if a study were undertaken that could somehow address these limitations, the findings might not generalize to any recognizable population. It is interesting to note, in this context, that the early experience debate has been substantially and robustly resolved in the animal literature. That is because the methodological confounds in human research have been effectively bypassed. Indeed, animal studies provide an abundance of evidence attesting to the long-term impact of early social experiences, from general stress exposure to more specific adversities such as disrupted rearing (Cacioppo et al., 2002; Fleming, O’Day, & Kraemer, 1999; Francis, Diorio, Liu, & Meaney, 1999; Hofer, 1994; Sanchez, Ladd, & Plotsky, 2001; Weaver et al., 2004). It is tempting to apply the general lessons from these animal findings to humans, and that is done routinely, sometimes rather cavalierly. Unfortunately, the limits of biological generalization across and within species do not always attract sufficient attention. One example is the difference in attachment behavior in New and Old World monkeys, notably the extent to which patterns of caregiving experiences are linked with offspring outcomes—which appear far stronger in the latter (Suomi, 1999). Other examples of nongeneralizability concerning general stress system physiology include differences between rodent species and even differences between strains of the same species (Parfitt, Walton, Corriveau, & Helmreich, 2007; Sanchez et al., 2001). Of course, there are many good examples of a parallelism between animal and human research findings; the point here is simply that the animal findings provide a basis for hypothesis generation for human research, but they need to be translated into human terms before firm conclusions can be supported. Another methodological point is that many research paradigms used in animal studies may not have much applicability to humans. Much of the animal work is oriented to testing the lasting effects of precisely timed and limited (i.e., acute) stress exposure. Howev-

er, precisely timed stressors are the exception rather than the rule in human research (e.g., Glynn, Wadhwa, Dunkel-­Schletter, ChiczDemet, & Sandman, 2001). Instead, clinical and policy concern is with those individuals exposed to chronic stress because these are the individuals most likely to develop mental and somatic health problems. Animal studies using chronic stress paradigms (e.g., Coplan et al., 1998) may be in a better position to inform human health processes. Similarly, many of the kinds of high-­stress conditions that are of particular importance in mental health work, such as foster care and the impact of repeated placements with caregivers, have no parallel paradigm in animal work— and would likely either not work or have a very different meaning. The implication is that some developmental–­clinical questions might not have an animal model and so be answerable only in clinical research. Animal studies also benefit from well­controlled experimental conditions, a feature not present in clinical studies. In fact, the necessary experimental interventions in humans occur very rarely because of a variety of practical and other difficulties. The Bucharest Early Intervention Project, which is discussed below, is a notable exception (Nelson et al., 2007; Zeanah, Smyke, Koga, & Carlson, 2005). As an alternative to experimental designs, clinical investigators often rely on “experiments in nature” (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) for gaining leverage in testing hypotheses about early experiences in humans. Natural experiments provide opportunities to test developmental hypotheses that would not be possible because of ethical or practical reasons. Examples include studies of children who were rescued from institutional deprivation (Gunnar, Morison, Chisholm, & Schuder, 2001; O’Connor et al., 2000) and follow-up studies of adults whose mother experienced prenatal famine induced by war (Brown, van Os, Driessens, Hoek, & Susser, 2000). As we review below, these are the sorts of studies that provide some of the most challenging data in this area.

Candidate Models to Account for Early Experience We highlight three prominent models for conceptualizing early experience. This is not an exhaustive set but an illustrative one that

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demonstrates meaningful differences in how early exposure/experience may shape longterm development. Which model is being tested is sometimes not made explicit in each research study, but it is implicit in the design that is used. So, for example, a study that examines the impact of a parenting intervention delivered only in infancy may be able to test the early experience hypotheses (e.g., that parenting interventions in infancy may have lasting effects on child–­parent attachment); on the other hand, such a design could not test the hypothesis that early interventions are any more or less effective than interventions delivered postinfancy (because there was no comparison with a sample in which only a postinfancy intervention was applied). It is important to discern how the research design sets limits on which hypotheses can be tested; this is not always made clear from the discussion of the results and is exceedingly rare in accounts of research findings in the popular media. A first example of a developmental model concerning early experience is the sensitive period hypothesis. Some neural circuits are believed to be experience-­expectant (Greenough, Black, & Wallace, 1987), meaning that these circuits are especially sensitive to, or “expect,” environmental inputs (experiences) to occur. The presumption is that many experience-­expectant processes involve sensitive periods—­definable windows in the development of the organism in which certain environmental input is needed in order for normal development to proceed; the same environmental input provided outside this developmental window would not have the same effect. Alternatively, a sensitive period model predicts that risk exposure within a definable period in development may have permanent effects; the same exposure outside this window would have no or minimal lasting effects. In research based on this model, which is dominant in animal work, the organism is typically exposed to severe and usually precisely timed pathogenic environments rather than to a continuum of risk conditions. Outcomes of interest tend to be severe disturbance rather than normal variation, and the focus is on species-(a)typical behavior or gross pathology rather than individual differences. Knudsen (2004) makes the important point that sensitive periods need to be con-


sidered as properties of neural circuits (that underlie the behavioral outcomes). He discusses several possible dynamic mechanisms that might operationalize sensitive periods at this level, including axon elaboration, synapse elimination, and synapse formation. Equally important is the need to demonstrate a cellular or neural circuit account for the closing of sensitive periods; this has proved more elusive. This is a more detailed level of analysis than has been shown—or may be possible to show—in clinical (human) research. We emphasize two key features of Knudsen’s treatment of the cellular basis of sensitive periods to our discussion. The first is that there are parallel principles of the sensitive period model (e.g., in terms of the role of developmental timing) whether the focus is on cellular levels of analysis or, as in this chapter, behavioral levels. The second is that the clarity of the cellular or behavioral sensitivity “effect” will be far more difficult to discern for more complex behaviors such as attachment and social competence, which involve multiple brain areas (compared with, say, development of vision). One of the lessons from comparative research is that the boundaries that define the sensitive period depend on the species, with more rigidly defined and narrow windows among lower animals and greater variation in more advanced animals. Berardi, Pizzorusso, and Maffei (2000) demonstrated this principle for visual acuity, for which available data are probably most complete (see also, Hensch, 2004). One of the more interesting findings from animal research is that some sensitive periods may be under some degree of genetic control (Huang et al., 1999; Kinnunen, Koenig, & Bilbe, 2003), and this is an area likely to attract greater attention. An alternative model is the developmental programming or adaptive programming model. The idea in this model is that the organism adapts to early environmental input; that is, some feature of the organism (e.g., processes involved in glucose metabolism or stress regulation) is “set” according to early input, and this “setpoint” persists into adult life. Variation in early environmental exposure will determine an organism’s set point. A concern with adaptation or preparedness implies a focus on the fit between the organism and its current (or later) environment rather than normal versus deviant, as



such (Gluckman & Hanson, 2005). Unlike the sensitive period model, which has only minor influence on human research, the adaptive programming model is emerging as a prominent one in human research on cardiovascular disease and other disease states (Barker, 1992). The idea that early exposures may have significance for child health is not so new (e.g., Mackenzie, 1906), but only somewhat recently have there been rigorous empirical demonstrations; the database on this topic in human work is now enormous. Applications of the programming model to psychological outcomes is fairly new (O’Connor, Heron, Golding, Glover, & ALSPAC study team, 2003; Rutter, O’Connor, & Study Team, 2004), but is emerging as an important theme in developmental research on mental health. A further developmental model places emphasis not so much on the early environment per se, but rather on the life-­course patterns of exposure, adopting a trajectory notion (Bowlby, 1988; Schaffer, 2000). According to this perspective, early experiences predict long-term outcomes only insofar as early risk exposure is maintained, reinforced, or accentuated by subsequent events. In other words, early risk exposure would be predicted to confer limited or no risk for future development if there is no current risk and/ or if there are substantial compensatory or protective factors present. This model, which tends to dominate human developmental research and is the basis for much of the thinking about resilience, requires an intensive measurement approach compared with, say, the sensitive period model. According to the life-­course model, assessments of only early exposure are not adequate because they are unable to examine how these early exposures are accentuated or nullified by later risk exposure. It is this model that is, in principle, most interested in individual differences and mild cumulative risk exposure rather than more limited and severe risk exposure. And, the model is significant in making no (or only quite limited) claims about a loss of plasticity in development. A major hypothesis of this trajectory model is that early adversity leads to an increased likelihood of early developmental failures or poor adaptation, which increase the likelihood of subsequent poor adjustment (Bowlby, 1988). Nonetheless, although early and sustained risk exposure

will likely lead to poor adjustment, the trajectory model or metaphor does not rule out the possibility that normal developmental can be achieved—­although with perhaps enormous (and impractical) levels of intervention. Set against these three developmental models is an nondevelopmental model that states that the timing of exposure and the organization of developmental events does not matter. The basic diathesis stress model is based on this assumption. That is, the constitutional predisposition toward some disease—the diathesis—need not incorporate any aspect of the individual’s development: An individual with a diathesis may respond to stress with pathology without regard to when in development the stress occurs. One way to demonstrate differences among developmental models is by reference to several external criteria. Among the more powerful to differentiate these models are (1) the importance of timing of an exposure or intervention; (2) the potential for resilience (e.g., positive adaptation following earlier exposure or developmental failure); and (3) a focus on individual differences versus species-­t ypical behavior. In any event, the ultimate question is how well each of these models fits the data and how well adapted the research design is for the model.

EARLY DEPRIVATION Probably the most dramatic and important set of studies to test alternative versions of the early experience hypothesis are those that have followed up children who experienced early institutional deprivation. These studies are well positioned because there is an extraordinary disjunction between early risk exposure—among the most severe studied in humans—and subsequent experience, usually in low- to normal-risk environments. The extreme nature of the early deprivation and the extreme nature of the discontinuity in risk exposure may make the lessons inapplicable to other populations; and these studies do not include children whose deprivation was experienced only after infancy. Nonetheless, they offer powerful leverage for testing the persistence of early deprivation effects. Other chapters in this volume provide reviews of attachment (see Chapter 5) and

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of the concept of attachment disorder (see Chapter 26), two phenotypes that are closely linked with early deprivation and institutional rearing. In this chapter we review the basic general findings for what research findings suggest about the effects of early deprivation on human psychological development. Clinical observations and strong early conclusions from Bowlby (1951), Spitz (1965), and others stimulated debate about the importance of the early months and years for normal psychological development. The animal work that followed (e.g., for nonhuman primate work, see Cameron, 2004; Coplan et al., 1998; Harlow & Suomi, 1970; Hinde & Spencer-Booth, 1971; Sabatini et al., 2007) largely reinforced the claims about the importance of early experiences for normal social relationships (for nonhuman primates). The (back) translation to humans was given a dramatic push by the recent studies that followed children who experienced severe deprivation from institutional rearing. What distinguishes these studies from the work in previous decades (e.g., Wolkind, 1974) was their attention to methodological rigor, most notably, sampling, measurement, and duration of follow-up. The findings were both familiar and challenging. Findings to date from this substantial and growing literature can be summarized in a fairly straightforward way (for more detailed reviews, see, e.g., Gunnar & Quevedo, 2007; O’Connor, 2006; van IJzendoorn & Juffer, 2006) because there is a good deal of replication across the studies. Most reports are from children who experienced early institutional rearing in Romania, although data from adoptees from other countries have also been considered extensively (Gunnar & van Dulmen, 2007; O’Connor et al., 2000; van IJzendoorn & Juffer, 2006); data have also been reported from interventions conducted within institutions, although these are predictably rare (Nelson et al., 2007). Probably the most striking observation across all studies concerning the effects of early deprivation is the degree of variability in outcomes—­across multiple outcomes and occasion of measurement. In the case of intellectual ability, for example, scores among those who experienced deprivation for as long as 2 years range from the impaired to well above average (Beckett et al., 2006).


The implication is that any model posed to account for the effects of early experiences on later development must at least allow for (if not account for) individual differences. An equally impressive observation— again, for many behavioral outcomes—is that the duration of deprivation has a persisting effect on long-term development. That is, the effect of early deprivation does not “go away” once the children have had adequate time for developmental catch-up (O’Connor et al., 2000). Findings on intellectual development from the English and Romanian adoptee (ERA) study illustrate the point. Beckett and her colleagues (2006) found that, among Romanian adoptees assessed at age 11 years, the average IQ on the Wechsler scales was 101 for those who were adopted before 6 months, 86 for those adopted between 6 and 24 months, and 83 for those adopted after 24 months (and before 42 months). Given that there were no major detectable differences among the families—­ implying minimal selection bias—it might be concluded that the effects of early deprivation on intellectual performance persist years after the deprivation ended and despite many years in resourceful, caring homes. Longer-term follow-up data also suggest that the persistence of deprivation restricted to the early months of life may not have lasting effects. Thus, in the ERA study, the children adopted before 6 months do not show a statistically significant difference from noninstitutionalized children, but do differ from those children adopted after 6 months; moreover, among the later-­adopted children (6–42 months), there was no strong link between outcome and duration of deprivation at the later follow-up assessments at age 11 years (Beckett et al., 2006; Rutter et al., 2007). That pattern, apparent for cognitive ability and severe attachment problems, raises the question of whether 6 months may be a meaningful point defining a sort of ontogenetic vulnerability. Other studies, notably the meta-­analysis of van IJzendoorn & Juffer (2006), suggested that the likelihood of adverse effects on attachment and social relationships among internationally adopted children might be set at 12 months; that is, it is principally adoptions after 12 months that might be expected to have difficulties. Gunnar and colleagues (Gunnar & van Dulman, 2007) suggested something similar in their



investigation of behavioral/emotional problems in their large study of international adoptees. Finally, Nelson et al.’s (2007) impressive intervention study of children in institutions suggested that the period in which a dramatic effect of altering the institutional environment on intellectual functioning may be even wider (out to 24 months); whether or not that study can address the sensitivity hypothesis, the findings provide some of the strongest causal evidence that a dramatic improvement in intellectual functioning is possible in children who experienced early profound deprivation. Of course, even if there were a clear cutoff point—and it is far from certain that there is or what it might be—it remains the case that the individual differences are substantial. That is not a finding that, to date, has emerged from the animal work, which has generally found strong and clear evidence of timing effects. Given the animal findings on genetic influences on sensitive periods noted above, it is natural to suppose that some of the variability in effects obtained in humans may be genetic in origin, but so far we lack data to test this hypothesis adequately. And, attempts to define periods of particular vulnerability will need to consider how they may apply differentially across behavioral domain and biobehavioral system. Finally, not all of the effects of deprivation from institutionalization persist; there is developmental catch-up, most notably in many areas of physical development, that has been shown in many studies of early-­deprived children; and, the degree of catch-up may itself depend on the age at which children were removed from the depriving environment (see O’Connor et al., 2000; Miller, Chan, Comfort, & Tirella, 2005; van IJzendoorn & Juffer, 2006).

Associations between Early Exposure and Later Development Advances in neuroscience methods have spurred considerable interest—exuberance may be more apt—in identifying possible biomarkers or indicators of biological mechanisms in research on early experience. The principle behind this effort is not to make the observed behavioral findings any more “real”; rather, it is to provide an additional layer of explanation, identify potential tar-

gets for biological treatments, and expose otherwise hidden sources of variability (e.g., where variation in the effect of early exposure may be moderated by genetic vulnerability). Clinical application of neuroscience findings to infant mental health assessment and treatment may be substantial, modest, or minimal; it is too soon to tell. In the meantime, research into possible mechanisms is an important target for research, and it is an area that deserves special attention from the variety of clinicians and policymakers concerned about infant mental health. Several biological systems have been implicated as candidate mechanisms to explain the persisting effects of early stress exposure, and a number of techniques have been applied. Some of these are difficult or impossible to assess in humans in a meaningful way, and so we must rely on animal data. For example, there is considerable animal evidence that the neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin are involved in parenting, affiliation, pair bonding, and other forms of social relationships (Carter, 1998; Insel, 2003; Winslow, 2005). These are, then, obvious candidates as mediators of a long-term effect of poor early parenting on disruptions in social and attachment relationships in the child. That hypothesis cannot be directly assessed in humans, however, because oxytocin gathered outside the central nervous system may not index oxytocin level or function in the brain. There may be ways around this methodological stumbling block (e.g., Meinlschmidt & Heim, 2007), and this is clearly an area in which methodological refinements could have a large impact on scientific progress. Other systems and neurotransmitters implicated as having a role in mediating early experience include opioids and dopaminergic pathways in the brain (Chugani et al., 2001; De Bellis, 2005; Pryce, Dettling, Spengler, Schnell, & Feldon, 2004). In fact, one of the more promising lines of research has used brain imaging to examine structure and function in the brains of children who experienced early deprivation and continue to show evidence of impaired adjustment, including reduced glucose metabolism in the orbital frontal cortex, prefrontal cortex, and medial temporal structures that include the amygdala and hippocampus (Chugani et al., 2001; Eluvathingal et al., 2006).

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The range of brain areas and neurotransmitter systems so far examined implies that there are most likely several brain processes that may act in combination or additively. It is for this reason that newer imaging strategies that reveal connectivity may be especially valuable (Eluvathingal et al., 2006). Probably the best studied mechanism involving early stress exposure is the hypothalamic–­p ituitary–­a drenocortical (HPA) axis. There is now considerable evidence that early stress exposure, derived from caregiving deprivation, early trauma and loss, or other sources, is associated with alterations in HPA axis functioning, indexed most commonly by levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can be measured from saliva. One set of follow-back studies (e.g., Heim, Newport, Bonsall, Miller, & Nemeroff, 2001; Meinlschmidt & Heim, 2005) reported that early adversity, such as maltreatment or parental loss, was associated with alteration in salivary cortisol. Studies that assess children with well-­documented exposure to maltreatment also show disturbances (e.g., Cicchetti & Rogosch, 2007; Dozier et al., 2006). Findings from the above studies are somewhat difficult to collate conceptually or methodologically, however, because of the wide variety in how HPA axis data were collected and analyzed. Indeed, there remain formidable challenges in measuring and understanding HPA axis data from salivary cortisol, though many investigators remain optimistic about this approach. And, although there is a suggestion that it is early exposure to stress that accounts for the HPA axis effect, that conclusion cannot be derived from any of the studies because the definition of early experience is varied (up to 14 years in one study) and leverage in detecting an early exposure per se is, as noted previously, nearly impossible in observational (i.e., nonintervention) studies. The extent to which the HPA axis is modified by early stress exposure and may be “corrected” by therapeutic intervention is a matter of ongoing research. There are important and suggestive findings from psychosocial/parenting interventions (e.g., Brotman et al., 2007; Fisher et al., 2006) and from more radical interventions, namely adoption (Gunnar & Quevedo, 2007; Gunnar et al., 2001). Progress in the methodology of HPA axis assessment and greater use of interven-


tion studies are needed to propel this area of research further. A lesson for research of this type is that it would be unlikely for a single mechanism to mediate the link between early deprivation and later outcomes, particularly those outcomes as biologically influenced and evolutionarily significant as attachment or cognitive ability. This research, which is at least partly driven by technical abilities, will require considerable cross-­disciplinary work and careful clinical observation.

APPLICATION TO PREVENTION AND INTERVENTION Applications of the early experience debate are no longer merely a topic for scientific or policy discussion; increasingly, commercial interests have sought to capitalize on the interest in early experience. For example, companies have put forth videos and other programs targeting parents of young children (“Baby Einstein” and the like). Claims about the positive impact of these programs have been made, even though there is no sound evidence that they fulfill their advertised benefits (Garrison & Christakis, 2005). In fact, quite the reverse may be true, at least in some cases. In their study of over 1,000 parents, Zimmerman, Christakis, and Meltzoff (2007) found that each hour of viewing baby DVDs/videos was associated with an almost 17-point decrease in communicative/ language development in 8- to 16-montholds; there was no significant link in 17- to 24-month-olds. Similarly misleading claims about the role of early experience and what it means for the type or intensity of clinical treatment are also widely made, most notoriously in the case of “holding” therapies for children with suspected attachment disorder (see O’Connor & Zeanah, 2003). The point here is that there is no reason to presume that clinical or other applications of the early experience debate will await clear findings from research, or that the applications will provide a fair and balanced interpretation of the evidence. Very different interpretations about early interventions are derived from the models of early experience outlined above. And, as the subsequent review of findings implied, none of the available models quite fits the data,



particularly the combination of substantial individual differences coupled with a striking persistence of effect—at least, in some cases. More specifically, the data do not yet suggest that there is a point after which intervention may not be effective; neither do they imply the reciprocal: that there is period in development before which intervention must occur to derive benefit. In short, we cannot, from existing data, make the sort of concrete determination that is often asked in applied settings. That is not to say that we do not have evidence for long-term positive effects of early interventions. Well-known examples include the work of Olds et al. (2004), Reynolds (Reynolds & Robertson, 2003), Ramey and colleagues (Campbell, Pungello, Johnson, Burchinal, & Ramey, 2001), and Cicchetti and Toth (Toth, Rogosch, Manly, & Cicchetti, 2006). These groups have shown that psychosocial interventions delivered in the first years of life (including prenatally) may have lasting effects that persist into adulthood. These studies do not necessary imply that early intervention is more effective than later intervention; they were not designed to do that (i.e., no group in the studies receives a comparably intensive, late-onset intervention). Extending the design of these studies to include a matched intervention delivered only later in development—if that were possible—would help address the scientific question of how important timing is on the effects of an intervention. But, given the positive evidence for early interventions that is now available, the additional and complex issue of timing of the intervention may not be one that is of paramount interest to practitioners and policymakers (and it would no doubt prove to be exceptionally difficult to test in a rigorous fashion, in any event). On the other hand, another lesson from the early experience research—the magnitude of individual differences in response to early adversity—is a matter with ready practical application. Identifying sources of individual differences to early intervention will help target those subgroups most likely to benefit and provide a strategy for altering and/or supplementing standard interventions. There is another cautionary note in the application of research findings to clinic and community: It is often poorly executed. In

the earlier cited case of folic acid, for example, Botto et al. (2005) found that the recommendations on the use of folic acid had “no detectable impact on incidence of neural tube defects”; this was so regardless of the recommendations’ form, timing, and intended target (p. 570). Given the strength of the findings on folic acid, that is a sobering observation. There may well be parallels with infant mental health; casual observation would suggest that the knowledge base is several steps ahead of routine clinical practice. On a more positive note, there is now a good deal of interest in supporting evidence-based treatments in community settings. For example, the wide-­spread popularity of nurse–­ family partnerships (based on the work of Olds and colleagues) is a good example of evidence-based practice. But, that may not be typical. Anecdotal evidence indicates that communication about concepts that are presumed to be obvious to those working in the mental health field is, at best, mixed. In the area of attachment, for example, there are many signs that the message about what attachment is (and what it is not) have been poorly communicated or misused. Perhaps the most severe example is the way in which attachment and “attachment therapy” have been promoted for children with severe attachment disturbances (see, O’Connor & Zeanah, 2003, for a discussion). Fortunately, there are also some good examples, such as Helping Babies from the Bench: Using the Science of Early Childhood Development in Court, a video produced by Zero to Three. And, for example, the work of Mary Dozier with infants in the social care system is improving the way in which attachment, early experience, and evidence-based practice are understood in applied settings.

CONCLUSIONS The early experience debate remains largely unresolved regarding most psychological and biobehavioral outcomes and processes in humans (see Bruer, 1999; Clarke & Clarke, 2000). Particularly informative and challenging are findings from studies of children whose experience of deprivation was limited to the first months or years of life. These findings, and findings from such designs as experimental interventions and natural ex-

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periments, will move the discussion forward in important ways in the near future. And, whereas most of the current work tends to focus on single mechanisms viewed from a single methodology, advances in neuroscience techniques and greater collaborative efforts will provide the opportunity to triangulate on mechanisms. Nonetheless, there are obstacles. Many reviews that consider how the animal evidence informs our understanding of early adverse environmental exposures on human development underplay the daunting translational task, and popular accounts of the early experience debate are too quick to ignore central methodological constraints. Greater integration of animal and human work may help, and there is also much to be done in promoting the public understanding of science in this area. Finally, a key next step, as Knudsen, Heckman, Cameron, and Shonkoff (2006) articulated, is to understand not only that there are clinical applications of the early experience debate, but that there are economic applications as well (see Nagle, Chapter 36, this volume). References Barker, D. J. (Ed.). (1992). Fetal and infant origins of adult disease. London: Tavistock. Beckett, C., Maughan, B., Rutter, M., Castle, J., Colvert, E., Groothues, C., et al. (2006). Do the effects of early severe deprivation on cognition persist into early adolescence?: Findings from the English and Romanian Adoptees study. Child Development, 77, 696–711. Belsky, J., & Fearon, R. M. (2002). Early attachment security, subsequent maternal sensitivity, and later child development: Does continuity in development depend upon continuity of caregiving? Attachment and Human Development, 4, 361–387. Berardi, N., Pizzorusso, T., & Maffei, L. (2000). Critical periods during sensory development. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 10, 138–145. Botto, L. D., Lisi, A., Robert-­Gnansia, E., Erickson, J. D., Vollset, S. E., Mastroiacovo, P., et al. (2005). International retrospective cohort study of neural tube defects in relation to folic acid recommendations: Are the recommendations working? British Medical Journal, 330, 571. Bowlby, J. (1951). Maternal care and mental health. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization. Bowlby, J. (1988). Developmental psychiatry comes of age. American Journal of Psychiatry, 145, 1–10. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human


development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Brotman, L. M., Gouley, K. K., Huang, K. Y., Kamboukos, D., Fratto, C., & Pine, D. S. (2007). Effects of a psychosocial family-based preventive intervention on cortisol response to a social challenge in preschoolers at high risk for antisocial behavior. Archives of General Psychiatry, 64, 1172–1179. Brown, A. S., van Os, J., Driessens, C., Hoek, H. W., & Susser, E. S. (2000). Further evidence of relation between prenatal famine and major affective disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 157, 190–195. Bruer, J. T. (1999). The myth of the first three years. New York: Free Press. Cacioppo, J. T., Bernstein, G. G., Adolphs, R., Carter, C. S., Davidson, R. J., McClintock, M. K., et al. (Eds.). (2002). Foundations of social neuroscience. Cambridge, MA: MIT press. Cameron, J. L. (2004, June). The use of animal models for mechanistic and developmental studies. Paper presented at the NIMH workshop on the prevention of depression in children and adolescents, Rockville, MD. Campbell, F. A., Pungello, E. P., Johnson, S. M., Burchinal, M., & Ramey, C. T. (2001). The development of cognitive and academic abilities: Growth curves from an early childhood educational experiment. Developmental Psychology, 37, 231–242. Canfield, R. L., Henderson, C. R., Jr., Cory-­Slechta, D. A., Cox, C., Jusko, T. A., & Lanphear, B. P. (2003). Intellectual impairment in children with blood lead concentrations below 10 microg per deciliter. New England Journal of Medicine, 348, 1517–1526. Carter, C. S. (1998). Neuroendocrine perspectives on social attachment and love. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 23, 779–818. Caspi, A. (2000). The child is father of the man: Personality continuities from childhood to adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 158–172. Chugani, H. T., Behen, M. E., Muzik, O., Juhasz, C., Nagy, F., & Chugani, D. C. (2001). Local brain functional activity following early deprivation: A study of postinstitutionalized Romanian orphans. NeuroImage, 14, 1290–1301. Cicchetti, D., & Rogosch, F. A. (2007). Personality, adrenal steroid hormones, and resilience in maltreated children: A multilevel perspective. Development and Psychopathology, 19, 787–809. Clarke, A. M., & Clarke, A. D. B. (2000). Early experience and the life path. London: Jessica Kingsley. Coplan, J. D., Trost, R. C., Owens, M. J., Cooper, T. B., Gorman, J. M., Nemeroff, C. B., et al. (1998). Cerebrospinal fluid concentrations of somatostatin and biogenic amines in grown primates reared by mothers exposed to manipulated foraging conditions. Archives of General Psychiatry, 55, 473–477.



De Bellis, M. D. (2005). The psychobiology of neglect. Child Maltreatment, 10, 150–172. Dozier, M., Manni, M., Gordon, M. K., Peloso, E., Gunnar, M. R., Stovall-McClough, K. C., et al. (2006). Foster children’s diurnal production of cortisol: An exploratory study. Child Maltreatment, 11, 189–197. Eluvathingal, T. J., Chugani, H. T., Behen, M. E., Juhasz, C., Muzik, O., Maqbool, M., et al. (2006). Abnormal brain connectivity in children after early severe socioemotional deprivation: A diffusion tensor imaging study. Pediatrics, 117, 2093–2100. Fisher, P. A., Gunnar, M. R., Dozier, M., Bruce, J., & Pears, K. C. (2006). Effects of therapeutic interventions for foster children on behavioral problems, caregiver attachment, and stress regulatory neural systems. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1094, 215–225. Fleming, A. S., O’Day, D. H., & Kraemer, G. W. (1999). Neurobiology of mother–­infant interactions: Experience and central nervous system plasticity across development and generations. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 23, 673–685. Francis, D., Diorio, J., Liu, D., & Meaney, M. J. (1999). Nongenomic transmission across generations of maternal behavior and stress response in the rat. Science, 286, 1155–1158. Garrison, M. M., & Christakis, D. A. (2005). A teacher in the living room?: Educational media for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Menlo Park, CA: Kaiser Family Foundation. Gluckman, P., & Hanson, M. (2005). The fetal matrix. New York: Cambridge University Press. Glynn, L. M., Wadhwa, P. D., Dunkel-­S chletter, C., Chicz-Demet, A., & Sandman, C. A. (2001). When stress happens matters: Effects of earthquake timing on stress responsivity in pregnancy. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 184, 637–642. Greenough, W. T., Black, J. E., & Wallace, C. S. (1987). Experience and brain development. Child Development, 58, 539–559. Gunnar, M. R., Morison, S. J., Chisholm, K., & Schuder, M. (2001). Salivary cortisol levels in children adopted from Romanian orphanages. Development and Psychopathology, 13, 611– 628. Gunnar, M. R., & Quevedo, K. (2007). The neurobiology of stress and development. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 145–173. Gunnar, M. R., & van Dulmen, M. H. (2007). Behavior problems in postinstitutionalized internationally adopted children. Development and Psychopathology, 19, 129–148. Harlow, H., & Suomi, S. (1970). The nature of love—­simplified. American Psychologist, 25, 161–168. Heim, C., Newport, D. J., Bonsall, R., Miller, A. H., & Nemeroff, C. B. (2001). Altered pituitary–­ adrenal axis responses to provocative challenge tests in adult survivors of childhood abuse. American Journal of Psychiatry, 158, 575–581.

Hensch, T. K. (2004). Critical period regulation. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 27, 549–579. Hinde, R. A., & Spencer-Booth, Y. (1971). Effects of brief separation from mother on rhesus monkeys. Science, 173, 111–118. Hofer, M. A. (1994). Hidden regulators in attachment, separation, and loss. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59(2–3), 192–207. Huang, Z. J., Kirkwood, A., Pizzorusso, T., Porciatti, V., Morales, B., Bear, M. F., et al. (1999). BDNF regulates the maturation of inhibition and the critical period of plasticity in mouse visual cortex. Cell, 98, 739–755. Insel, T. R. (2003). Is social attachment an addictive disorder? Physiology and Behavior, 79, 351–357. Kagan, J., & Moss, H. A. (1983). Birth to maturity. New York: Wiley. (Original work published 1962) Kagan, J., Snidman, N., Kahn, V., & Towsley, S. (2007). The preservation of two infant temperaments into adolescence. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 72(2), 1–75. Kinnunen, A. K., Koenig, J. I., & Bilbe, G. (2003). Repeated variable prenatal stress alters pre- and postsynaptic gene expression in the rat frontal lobe. Journal of Neurochemistry, 86, 736–748. Knudsen, E. I. (2004). Sensitive periods in the development of the brain and behavior. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 16, 1412–1425. Knudsen, E. I., Heckman, J. J., Cameron, J. L., & Shonkoff, J. P. (2006). Economic, neurobiological, and behavioral perspectives on building America’s future workforce. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 103, 10155–10162. Mackenzie, W. L. (1906). The health of the schoolchild. London: Methuen. MRC Vitamin Study Research Group. (1991). Prevention of neural tube defects: Results of the Medical Research Council vitamin study. Lancet, 338, 131–137. Meinlschmidt, G., & Heim, C. (2005). Decreased cortisol awakening response after early loss experience. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 30, 568– 576. Miller, L., Chan, W., Comfort, K., & Tirella, L. (2005). Health of children adopted from Guatemala: Comparison of orphanage and foster care. Pediatrics, 115(6), E710–E717. Nelson, C. A., III, Zeanah, C. H., Fox, N. A., Marshall, P. J., Smyke, A. T., & Guthrie, D. (2007). Cognitive recovery in socially deprived young children: The Bucharest Early Intervention Project. Science, 318(5858), 1937–1940. O’Connor, T. G. (2006). The persisting effects of early experiences on psychological development. In D. Cicchetti & D. Cohen (Eds.), Developmental psychopathology: Vol. 3. Risk, disorder, and adaptation (2nd ed., pp.  202–234). New York: Wiley. O’Connor, T. G., Heron, J., Golding, J., Glover, V.,

7. Research Findings on Early Experience

& ALSPAC study team. (2003). Maternal antenatal anxiety and behavioural/emotional problems in children: A test of a programming hypothesis. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 44, 1025–1036. O’Connor, T. G., Rutter, M., Beckett, C., Kreppner, J. M., Keaveney, L., & the English and Romanian Adoptees Study Team. (2000). The effects of global severe privation on cognitive competence: Extension and longitudinal followup. Child Development, 71, 376–390. O’Connor, T. G., & Zeanah, C. H. (2003). Attachment disorders: Assessment strategies and treatment approaches. Attachment and Human Development, 5, 223–244. Olds, D. L., Kitzman, H., Cole, R., Robinson, J., Sidora, K., Luckey, D. W., et al. (2004). Effects of nurse home-­visiting on maternal life course and child development: Age 6 follow-up results of a randomized trial. Pediatrics, 114, 1550–1559. Parfitt, D. B., Walton, J. R., Corriveau, E. A., & Helmreich, D. L. (2007). Early life stress effects on adult stress-­induced corticosterone secretion and anxiety-like behavior in the C57BL/6 mouse are not as robust as initially thought. Hormones and Behavior, 52, 417–426. Pryce, C. R., Dettling, A. C., Spengler, M., Schnell, C. R., & Feldon, J. (2004). Deprivation of parenting disrupts development of homeostatic and reward systems in marmoset monkey offspring. Biological Psychiatry, 56, 72–79. Reynolds, A. J., & Robertson, D. L. (2003). Schoolbased early intervention and later child maltreatment in the Chicago Longitudinal Study. Child Development, 74, 3–26. Rutter, M., Colvert, E., Kreppner, J., Beckett, C., Castle, J., Groothues, C., et al. (2007). Early adolescent outcomes for institutionally-­deprived and non-­deprived adoptees: I. Disinhibited attachment. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 48, 17–30. Rutter, M., O’Connor, T. G., & the English and Romanian Adoptees Study Team. (2004). Are there biological programming effects for psychological development?: Findings from a study of Romanian adoptees. Developmental Psychology, 40, 81–94. Sabatini, M. J., Ebert, P., Lewis, D. A., Levitt, P., Cameron, J. L., & Mirnics, K. (2007). Amygdala gene expression correlates of social behavior in monkeys experiencing maternal separation. Journal of Neuroscience, 12, 3295–3304. Sanchez, M. M., Ladd, C. O., & Plotsky, P. M.


(2001). Early adverse experience as a developmental risk factor for later psychopathology: Evidence from rodent and primate models. Development and Psychopathology, 13, 419–449. Schaffer, H. R. (2000). The early experience assumption: Past, present, and future. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 24, 5–14. Spitz, R. A. (1965). The first year of life. New York: International Universities Press. Suomi, S. (1999). Attachment in rhesus monkeys. In J. Cassidy & P. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment (pp. 181–197). New York: Guilford Press. Toth, S. L., Rogosch, F. A., Manly, J. T., & Cicchetti, D. (2006). The efficacy of toddler–­parent psychotherapy to reorganize attachment in the young offspring of mothers with major depressive disorder: A randomized preventive trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 1006–1016. van IJzendoorn, M. H., & Juffer, F. (2006). The Emanuel Miller Memorial Lecture 2006: Adoption as intervention. Meta-­analytic evidence for massive catch-up and plasticity in physical, socio-­emotional, and cognitive development. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47, 1228–1245. Waters, E., Merrick, S., Treboux, D., Crowell, J., & Albersheim, L. (2000). Attachment security in infancy and early adulthood: A twenty-year longitudinal study. Child Development, 71, 684–689. Weaver, I. C., Cervoni, N., Champagne, F. A., D’Alessio, A. C., Sharma, S., Seckl, J. R., et al. (2004). Epigenetic programming by maternal behavior. Nature Neuroscience, 7, 847–854. Winslow, J. T. (2005). Neuropeptides and nonhuman primate social deficits associated with pathogenic rearing experience. International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience, 23, 245–251. Wolkind, S. N. (1974). The components of “affectionless psychopathology” in institutionalized children. Journal Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 15, 215–220. Zeanah, C. H., Smyke, A. T., Koga, S. F., & Carlson, E. (2005). Attachment in institutionalized and community children in Romania. Child Development, 76, 1015–1028. Zimmerman, F. J., Christakis, D. A., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2007). Associations between media viewing and language development in children under age 2 years. Journal of Pediatrics, 151, 364–368.

Pa r t II



he cumulative risk model is now widely accepted. Simply put, this model states that the number of risk factors that an infant or dyad or family shares is more predictive of many adverse outcomes than any particular combination of risk factors. Considerable evidence has accumulated demonstrating that the cumulative risk model is well supported for many types of outcomes. Many studies are criticized for isolating single risk factors and looking at their correlates, potentially yielding misleading results. Given this lack of specificity, we may ask why a section on risk factors would be organized by specific factors. Answers to this question are largely pragmatic. Many intervention programs target specific risk factors, such as interventions or programs for adolescent mothers or substance abuse intervention programs. The fact that children of mothers in each program share increased risk for language delays, for example, does not mean that there is no value in organizing an intervention around these specific maternal characteristics. Experience with particular populations who may share common thematic struggles or respond to specific treatments is ample reason for organizing interventions (or chapters) by single risk factors. In any case, risk factors most often co-occur and may even interact with one another to lead to deleterious outcomes. Many of the chapters in this section review research that is not only concerned with risk factors but also with risk processes. In clinical settings, of course, risk factors are less meaningful for a particular dyad or family than actual contributors to the clinical picture. That is, once a clinical problem is evident, the probabilistic construct of risk must give way to identifying modifiable factors that are contributing to the disturbed behavior. Perhaps the most commonly encountered risk factor in infant mental health is poverty. Rarely occurring in isolation, poverty encompasses multiple risks factors and processes. Knitzer and Perry in Chapter 8 review research that documents deleterious effects of poverty on both limiting resources of families and compromising emotional well-being of parents. They highlight investments needed to strengthen parent–­infant relationships by providing supportive and therapeutic opportunities to low income parents. They call for family-­focused policies that




are aimed at both reducing poverty and improving parenting, as well as building bridges between these two objectives. In Chapter 9 Goodman and Brand review recent research on maternal depression. They discuss important advances in identifying the effects of depression on pregnant women and new mothers, as well as short-term and long-term effects on infants. They describe the likely mechanisms through which depression affects infants, as well as the roles of risk and protective factors. In keeping with a contextual approach, they also highlight research on the role of fathers of infants who are affected by their mothers’ depression. They note that maternal depression as a risk factor for infant mental health is not only treatable but preventable, and they call for more efforts to reduce the intergenerational effects of depression. In keeping with the theme of multiple risks and complex risk processes, Boris, in Chapter 10, provides an overview of the complex issue of substance abuse in parents of young children. He describes several pathways through which substances may affect infant mental health. First, direct prenatal exposure is known to be associated with a variety of effects on infant behavior and development. Second, genetic effects may influence parent and infant behavior both separately and together. Finally, the effects of cumulative social adversities that accompany substance abuse may further contribute to risks. Each of these pathways provides indications about how families may be approached clinically and indications about the necessary components of intensive interventions. One of the best-known biological risk factors in infant mental health is preterm birth. In Chapter 11 Muller Nix and Ansermet describe this risk condition in all of its complexity. They present recent research and provide a trauma perspective on parents’ experience. They use the complexity of the problem to call for multifaceted interventions designed to address the interrelated biological, developmental, social, and emotional determinants of prematurity and their potential consequences. They emphasize the importance of the role of the mental health clinician in working directly with parents on their relationship with the infant, and also the role of working with the staff in the medically complex environment of the intensive care nursery. In Chapter 12 Schechter and Willheim review the effects of exposure to violence on infant mental health. They present research suggesting that many factors must be considered, including the nature of the exposure to violence, infant constitutional factors that may heighten vulnerability and/or resilience, the developmental context in which the violence occurs, and the infant’s relational context. Because the last of these is the one factor that clinicians can impact, Schechter and Willheim describe in detail the complex relational effects of violence exposure and highlight important prevention and treatment efforts that have been mobilized to reduce long-term sequelae. In the concluding chapter of the section (Chapter 13), Hans and Thullen discuss adolescent motherhood. In addition to the focus on mother and infant, they also consider the influence of mother–­grandmother and mother–­father relationships on teenage mothers and their babies, as well as the social networks of adolescent parents. This larger relational context points to the kinds of complexity needed in crafting comprehensive interventions for young mothers and their infants.

Chapter 8

Poverty and Infant and Toddler Development Facing the Complex Challenges Jane Knitzer Deborah F. Perry


ach year, approximately 4 million babies are born in the United States. Of these, about 800,000 babies are born into “officially” poor families, and another 900,000 babies are born into families that struggle mightily to make ends meet. Altogether, a stunning 42% of all infants and toddlers in the United States—over 5 million children— are growing up in low-­income families with incomes under 200% of the official poverty level. What science tells us about how to ensure that these babies thrive and what policies are in place to put that knowledge into practice are critical for the workforce for the next generation. This chapter explores a series of questions, the answers to which can help shed light on the complex interactions among poverty and developmental forces. This information can serve both as a spur to new research and as a framework for developing a more coherent policy response that can support the kinds of emerging clinical interventions described throughout this book. The chapter is organized in three sections. The first highlights the demographic realities that so greatly impact and shape the experiences of young children in low-­income families. The second explores emerging research that is moving the inquiry from doc

umenting the associations between poverty and, too often, negative developmental outcomes to better understanding of the ways in which poverty actually impacts these outcomes. The third section turns the spotlight on the current policy framework and how it impacts the range and quality of the services and supports that are available to low-­income families. This section highlights the ways in which current policies need to be strengthened and where new policy frameworks need to be crafted to better integrate the lessons from science.

WHO ARE POOR INFANTS AND TODDLERS? “Official” poverty was defined as an annual income of $17,170 for a family of three in 2007. But the official poverty level is based on an outdated formula developed in the 1960s. It estimates that families spend about onethird of their incomes on food, but it ignores the cost of child care and underestimates the burden of housing costs. It also fails to take into account taxes, benefits, or regional cost differences (Cauthen & Fass, 2006). Hence, it is not surprising that research based on real family experiences shows consistently 135



that it takes about twice the official poverty level for families to provide basic necessities. However, despite major efforts to redefine poverty in more appropriate ways (Citro & Michael, 1995; Dalakar, 2005), from a policy perspective, the official poverty level continues to be used when public resources are allocated—­specifically, to determine which families are eligible for public programs. Altogether, of the 5.2 million babies and toddlers in low-­income families, about 21% are in families with incomes at or below the official poverty level, including the 1.2 million children from 0 to 3 (10% of all infants and toddlers) who are in families with incomes that are at 50% or less than the official poverty level. Another 22% of infants and toddlers, or 2.7 million very young children, are in families whose income is between 100 and 200% of the poverty level. Although the official poverty line sounds like a firm divide, in reality, low-­income families move in and out of official poverty. These variations in income can impact eligibility for benefits from month to month. But even more significantly, families with incomes between 100 and 200% of poverty are generally just one crisis away from poverty; they live “at the edge,” without any savings or assets to stand between them and a broken car or missed rent payment Near poor families are also penalized because they lose eligibility for benefits more quickly than their income increases (Cauthen, 2006). Beneath these overarching numbers is a much more nuanced and complicated picture, with significant variations by race, ethnicity, and immigrant status that have powerful implications for research, policy and clinical/practice agendas. America’s babies are leading the way toward the society that America will become, that is, a much more racially and ethnically diverse one. Fifty-five percent of all infants and toddlers born in this country are white, which means that white infants and toddlers are still in the majority, but not by much. (Whites comprise 67% of the total population.) Twentythree percent of all infants and toddlers are Hispanic, 14% are black, 4% are Asian, and 3% are “other.” Less than half of 1% are Native American, but there are a few states in which Native American children comprise a much more significant part of the population.

Poverty and low-­income status disproportionately impact babies of color. Less than one-third of all white babies (30%) are in low-­income families, compared to nearly two-­thirds of black (66%), Hispanic (63%), and Native American babies (63%). About 25% of Asian babies are in low-­income families. Children of recent immigrants— who now comprise one out of every five children—are also more likely to be in poor or low-­income families than children of American-born parents. Half of these children are in low-­income families, one-third of them in households in which no adult is proficient in English (Gozdziak, 2006, cited in Dinan, 2006). Together, all these children of color are harbingers of a new America that is much more culturally diverse than the current America; by 2030, it is estimated that less than half of U.S. children will be non-­H ispanic white, and the majority will comprise a mix of other ethnicities and races (Mather, 2009). Two other features of populations of young children in low-­income families are also relevant. The first is that there is considerable variation across the states in the percentage of young children who are in low-­income families, with rates ranging from 21 to 58% (Stebbins & Knitzer, 2007). This wide range has important implications for state as well as national policies. Also startling is the reality that the younger the children are, the more likely they are to be in families that do not have adequate income (DouglasHall, Chau, & Koball, 2006; see Figure 8.1). There is some evidence, furthermore, that the impact of poverty on younger-aged children, depending upon its duration and depth, has more significant negative effects than poverty experienced by older children (Duncan & Brooks-Gunn, 1997)—a finding that has important policy implications.

The Family Context: A Demographic Portrait The data just highlighted represent only one portion of the portrait of America’s low­income babies and toddlers. A risk and resilience framework calls for equal attention to how demographic and psychosocial risks and strengths are distributed among parents of young children. Three demographic factors are particularly relevant: parental

8. Poverty and Infant and Toddler Development


Percent (%) 50 40 30 20 10 0



5.2 million


3.3 million

1.6 million




2.6 million

1.6 million

0.8 million

Under 3



39% 10.8 million

17% 4.8 million


Low-income 35% 7.4 million


15% 3.2 million


FIGURE 8.1.  Children living in low-income and poor families, by age group, 2005. From DouglasHall, Chau, and Koball (2006). Copyright 2006 by the National Center for Children in Poverty. Reprinted by permission.

education, parental work status, and parental marital status. All have been linked, repeatedly, to outcomes for babies and toddlers, and all interact in complex ways with income status. Parental, and especially maternal, education is one of the best predictors of a child’s educational achievement (Baum, 2004). Early language development in babies is directly related to maternal levels of education. Families with more education use more words, in more complex ways, and often with more positive tone—­factors that all contribute to better language development in young children (Hart & Risley, 1995; Ramey & Ramey, 2004). In turn, better language skills translate into greater odds for successful early school entry. Overall, one-­quarter of all low-­income babies and toddlers have parents with less than a high school education. Another 36% of the babies have parents who have just a high school education, and 38% have some college. Again, there are significant disparities by race and ethnicity: 63% of Native American, 62% of Hispanic, and 50% of black infants and toddlers live with parents who have a high school education or less. Contrary to stereotypes, most low-­income parents work; in fact, 51% of low-­income babies and toddlers have at least one parent who works full-time, and another 30% have parents who work parttime. The corresponding distribution for the population as a whole is 73% working full time and 17% working part-time. The problem is that parents in the low-­income brackets do not earn enough to support a family.

In other words, a large group of low-­income babies and toddlers largely have undereducated parents who work very hard but cannot earn enough money to lift their families out of poverty or to provide their children with the experiences that more affluent young children frequently enjoy. Finally, just under half (49%) of all infants and toddlers in low-­income families live in two-­parent families. For these families, marriage does not protect against economic hardship. But even in the single-­parent families, fathers are often unofficially in the picture, particularly around the time of the baby’s birth (Special Analysis prepared by NCCP Annual Social & Economic Supplement, 2008). Beyond these broad demographic factors, it is also important to attend to the subgroups of infants and toddlers who face combinations of parental, environmental, and/or other risk factors, including extreme poverty, that lessen the odds for their healthy development. Early Head Start evaluation, based on data disaggregated by combinations of risk factors, for example, found that babies and toddlers in families experiencing four or more demographic risk factors did not benefit from the program in the same way that other participants did (Love et al., 2004). Other data suggest that what have been called parental “adversities,” particularly related to depression, substance abuse, and intimate partner violence, alone or in combination with each other and with demographic risk factors, represent even more severe threats for babies and toddlers. There are no census data on the prevalence of



these parental psychosocial risk conditions in the lives of infants and toddlers, but a recent synthesis suggests that symptoms of parental depression in parents of young low­income children are as high as 48% (Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project, 2003) and that about 10% of these children have substance abusing parents (Knitzer & Lefkowitz, 2006). Rates of maltreatment for infants and toddlers are higher than for any other age group, with rates estimated to be 16 per 1,000. Similarly, whether or not babies are born to immigrant parents also has important consequences for development, since they are more likely to be in low-­income families—61% compared with 40% of those born to native parents (Douglas-Hall et al., 2006). The vast majority of these babies come from Mexico or other Spanish­speaking countries and cultures, but all across America are communities with “new Americans” from other countries, some of them war torn, with families escaping from traumatizing situations. These factors have enormous implications for those who deliver services, and they underscore the importance of reaching these families in a culturally competent manner (Dinan, 2006). Immigrant status also impacts the public benefits to which these babies have access. In theory, babies born to immigrant parents are U.S. citizens and entitled to all the benefits available to other babies of comparable income status, but in reality, the current pervasive anti-­immigration sentiment creates fear in families, forestalling or prohibiting that involvement with the “helping” systems. Finally, it is important to emphasize the persistence of seemingly intractable disparities. In U.S. society, poverty and related risk factors disproportionately impact children and families of color. From the start, infants in families of color are born earlier and smaller, with black babies facing consistently higher rates of low birthweight and preterm delivery (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006b). Higher rates of chronic health conditions (e.g., asthma, sickle cell disease) further erode their well-being and place increased care and financial burdens on families. For new immigrants from Spanish-­speaking countries (as well as many already have), lack of sufficient numbers of health care providers who are bilingual or

bicultural is a major problem, as caregiver behaviors and beliefs about illness are culturally mediated. At one level, this lacuna has led to new insights and practices related to cultural competence. But at another level, it is, in fact, young children who bear the burden of an unequal social playing field.

POVERTY AND SOCIAL– EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT For decades, research has documented in excruciating detail what is now a truism: Children growing up in poverty are exposed to great numbers and types of risk factors and manifest poor development across multiple domains (Aber, Jones, & Raver, 2007; Duncan & Brooks-Gunn, 1997; McLoyd, 1998; Ryan, Fauth, & Brooks-Gunn, 2006). More recent research, however, is moving beyond a focus on patterns of association to expand our understanding of the specific pathways or mechanisms through which poverty takes its long-­lasting toll on children’s well-being. Below we review some of the research that has been published since the last edition of the Handbook of Infant Mental Health (Zeanah, 2000), focusing particularly on those studies that seek to elucidate poverty’s impact on young children’s social–­emotional and behavioral health—which, as the entirety of this volume underscores, necessitates a focus on the mental health of the family.

Conceptual Model The conceptual model that frames our review (see Figure 8.2) is influenced by a great deal of work that has come before us, most notably a groundbreaking paper by Yeung, Linver, and Brooks-Gunn (2002). Using structural equation modeling to analyze data from a large, nationally representative sample, these authors integrated the two dominant theoretical approaches to understanding the effects of poverty on young children’s development: the investment perspective and the family process model. The investment perspective, initially articulated by an influential economist (Becker, 1981; Becker & Thomes, 1986), views the main pathways through which income affects children’s future outcomes as those elements directly associated with money and time. With

8. Poverty and Infant and Toddler Development

Poverty: Income Timing Depth Duration Financial Stress


Process: Parental Mental Health Parenting Behavior Marital Quality Siblings, Others Young Child’s Mental Health Structure: Home Enviornment Neighborhood Schools Child Care Quality Resilience: Moderates effects of poverty on outcomes at level of family, neighborhood, and child

FIGURE 8.2.  Our conceptual model.

more money, parents can (1) purchase more stimulating toys, books, and games; (2) afford higher-­quality child care and (later) private schools; (3) purchase a home in a safe neighborhood; and (4) have more available leisure time to engage in activities with their children. The family process model posits that the main mediators of the effects of income on children’s outcomes are the emotional well-being of parents (in particular, mothers) and the qualities of family interactions, particularly those related to stress. The early roots of this perspective, often referred to as the “family stress” model, are often attributed to the foundational research by Elder (Conger & Elder, 1994; Elder & Caspi, 1988). Researchers focusing on the investment perspective have argued that these variables are particularly salient for children’s cognitive development and later school achievement, whereas the family stress literature has typically sought to account for differences in children’s social–­ emotional outcomes. Yeung, Linver, and Brooks-Gunn (2002) combined both perspectives in a single conceptual model, arguing that both pathways are important to understanding why, in the aggregate, children in poverty fare worse than their higher-­income peers. In addition, they contend that the specific variables of greatest theoretical interest in the invest-

ment model may, in fact, interact with central variables in the family stress pathways. For example, stress related to paying for food and housing or lack of access to health care could lead to changes in parenting behavior that are linked to children’s outcomes. These authors also address cognitive and behavioral outcomes in this work and focus on young children—a specific gap in the family stress literature which had emphasized adolescent well-being and outcomes. Finally, this work was strengthened by the selection of a data set that contained a large number of theoretically important variables, measured over time in a large sample. In short, the integration of both the investment and family stress perspectives makes a significant contribution to our understanding of how poverty affects young children’s development. Similar to the current resolution of the nature versus nurture debates of old, which argues not only do both matter, but the interaction of both matters even more, the evidence about the two pathways suggests that both structural characteristics (be those the quality of the available child care, the safety of the neighborhood, or the availability of high-­quality learning materials) related to the family investment frame and the affective quality of the child’s environment are critical. The evidence also suggests that it is difficult to pull these domains



apart: Sufficient income to purchase better­quality child care (investment frame) means that, on average, these caregivers will be better trained and likely warmer and more responsive (family, process frame). Likewise, many of the negative effects of structural characteristics that differ in the homes and neighborhoods of families in poverty will likely be mediated through process pathways (i.e., mother’s mental health and parenting behaviors). Therefore, we see these as reciprocally related constructs that both contribute to children’s well-being (Figure 8.2).

New Methods Expand Models More sophisticated definitions of poverty as well as more nuanced theories have been needed to guide the selection of variables to measure and include in studies. Research conducted over the last decade has also benefited from the creation of several large data sets derived from high-­quality longitudinal studies focused on low-­income populations, as well as a significant increase in the use of multivariate statistical modeling techniques that allow researchers to test proposed mechanisms and pathways and measure more complex constructs associated with the experience of poverty. Advances in our understanding of the pathways through which economic disadvantage impacts the well-being of families and young children have come from the convergence of three primary forces: greater sophistication of the statistical tools that can be applied to data analysis, the availability of more data sets that have variables that are theoretically relevant to low-­income families, and advances in the development of more nuanced theories of mechanisms and pathways. New multivariate analytic techniques allow developmental scientists to answer new questions from large population-based samples about the relationships between income and outcomes as well as about the trajectories of development in both lowerand higher-­income families. Nationally representative samples of young children, such as the Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies (ECLS), which follow two large cohorts (from birth through kindergarten, and from kindergarten through eighth grade; ECLS-B and ECLS-K, respectively), are adding to the published literature on the unique risks and

protective factors that operate during the early childhood period (U.S. Deaprtment of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1999). Still other researchers are gathering data from large observational studies that further enhance our knowledge base. For example, the Three-City study has followed a group of about 2,400 low-­income families recruited in 1999 when their children were either less than 4 years old or between 10 and 14. These families, from Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio, Texas urban neighborhoods, were then followed up at two later time points. In addition to the longitudinal data, the researchers have an “embedded development study” that gathered detailed videotaped caregiver–child interaction data, time-diary studies, and observational data on the quality of child care. The exclusive focus on low-­income parents in this sample allows us to explore the heterogeneity of the experiences of low-­income parents and children, as well as to measure variables of theoretical interest in more depth and over time, such as changes in parenting practices. Another new data set that offers an equally rich source of high-­quality data over the early childhood period is the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being study. This team of researchers recruited a cohort of nearly 5,000 families in cities across the United States; three-­quarters of these babies were born to unmarried mothers. This study design allows for the in-depth exploration of the intersection between low-­income and single-­parent status. The main study has been supplemented with new funding from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to follow these families into middle childhood; and a large array of complementary studies have been funded by government and philanthropic organizations to address special topics, such as parental resources and child well-being, fatherhood and incarceration, and couple dynamics and father investments. These studies will begin to fill an important gap in what is known about the role of fathers in low-­income families. And finally, another set of recent studies resulted from systematic “experiments” with different combinations of welfare-towork programs (e.g., New Hope; see Huston et al., 2005). Together, these new methodological approaches and longitudinal data sets have al-

8. Poverty and Infant and Toddler Development

lowed researchers to define poverty in more complex ways. Instead of simply considering an individual’s income at a single point in time, recent studies have sought to capture the dynamic nature of poverty as it affects children’s development. For example, using a large sample of families from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), Wagmiller, Lennon, Kuang, Alberti, and Aber (2006) applied a specific statistical modeling technique (i.e., latent class analysis) to determine four distinct patterns in the experience of poverty during childhood: long-term poor, moving out of poverty, moving into poverty, and nonpoor. This innovative approach takes into account the timing of the experience of poverty—­adding to a growing body of evidence that underscores early childhood as a particularly vulnerable time to experience the negative effects of poverty. Others add measures of the subjective experience of financial stress to objective measures of income (e.g., Gershoff, Raver, Aber, & Lenon, 2007; Mistry, Biesanz, Taylor, Burchinal, & Cox, 2004); financial stress is particularly salient as a mediator of income to family stress variables. Researchers have also stressed the importance of the “depth” of poverty, often defined as falling below 50% of the federal poverty level, which may be differentially related to many of the investment perspective variables such as lack of stable housing and food insecurity. Further augmenting the findings from developmental psychology, social demography, and public health are new data on the physiological mechanisms that underlie the early impact of stress on developing brains and bodies (); and the growing body of work on gene–­environment interactions as they contribute to mental health outcomes (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2005; Knudsen, Heckman, Cameron, & Shonkoff, 2006; Rutter & Silberg, 2002).

Poverty and Social–­Emotional Health Direct Effects of Income The research on the direct effects of income overall show only modest impacts both for social–­emotional and cognitive arenas. Thus, with respect to social–­emotional behaviors, for the most part, there is little


evidence of direct effects across data sets, analytic methods, and theoretical models. Further, in those few studies where direct effects of income on early childhood mental health are reported, the magnitude of these effects tends to be quite modest (Dearing, McCartney, & Taylor 2006). Similarly, some studies report some residual (direct) effects of income on cognitive outcomes, but only after other mediators are placed in the multivariate models. The effects tend to be relatively small and to emerge first during the toddler period, suggesting that they may be seen as early roots of academic disadvantage (see Ryan et al., 2006 for a comprehensive review of the school readiness literature).

Indirect Effects of Income Most of the recent research examining the links between poverty and young children’s mental health explores the indirect effects of income on outcomes through mediating variables. Two sets of findings are particularly important. First, increasingly nuanced research continues to identify parenting as the most significant mediator of poverty. Second, the research is also showing the importance of nonparenting experiences, particularly early child care and broader neighborhood characteristics. This research reflects the confluence of the factors cited above: new and better data sets and methods coupled with advances in theory that allow research to test theory-based hypotheses on sufficiently large samples of low-­income families. Below, we briefly summarize the research.

Parenting Poverty exerts its strongest influence on young children’s outcomes through its effects on parenting. Studies have examined a wide array of specific parenting behaviors that are associated with early childhood mental health. These include how consistently or harshly parents discipline their children, how emotionally available a mother may be during infancy, parental expressed emotion and warmth, and, increasingly, the critical role that parental depression plays in disrupting positive parenting in many low­income families (see Goodman & Brand, Chapter 9, and Rosenblum et al., Chapter 5, this volume). Researchers have sought to



examine the dynamics of the experience of depression on young children, (Petterson & Albers, 2001), the longer-term effects of exposure to a depressed mother (Grace, Evinder, & Stewart, 2003), and the degree to which interventions can have a significant impact on women suffering from depression (Nylen, Moran, Fanklin, & O’Hara, 2006; Robinson & Emde, 2004). Researchers are also beginning to track the impact of multiple maternal risks that often coexist with depression, particularly substance abuse and intimate partner violence (Whitaker, Orzol, & Kahn, 2006). Growing attention to fathers and other caregivers is likely in the future.

Early Childhood Environments While the majority of research on the impact of poverty on social and emotional development focuses on the family process pathways, there is growing evidence to suggest that structural characteristics of the “environment of childhood poverty” may interact with parenting behaviors to affect outcomes. For example, Evans (2004) provides a review of the physical and environmental risks that characterize many of the neighborhoods and homes of children growing up in low-­income families. With limited financial resources, families are often exposed to higher levels of toxins, poorer air quality, and greater noise pollution, which may lead to compromised physical health in parents and infants alike. More relevant to social development are higher rates of community violence to which low-­income families are exposed, impacting infants and toddlers through the stress this places on caregivers, and later restricting young children’s access to outdoor play with peers due to safety concerns (Evans, 2004). The evidence that physical characteristics of the homes and neighborhoods of low­incomes families contribute significantly to their overall experience of income insecurity has grown as researchers have added to their sophistication in measuring these important ecological contexts (Beyers, Bates, Pettit, & Dodge, 2003; Caughy & O’Campo, 2006; Caughy, Randolph, & O’Campo, 2002; Kohen, Brooks-Gunn, Leventhal, & Hertzmann, 2002; O’Campo, 2003). Another important context for understanding how structural features of the environment effect young children’s social and

emotional development is child care. Many low-­income families lack access to high­quality infant and toddler child care because it is too expensive. Both structural and interpersonal characteristics of child care are important predictors of cognitive and social outcomes for young children; research has consistently documented greater gains in cognition for low-­income children who are in high-­quality child care settings (Loeb, Fuller, Kagan, & Carrol, 2004; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2005; Ryan et al., 2006).

Moderating Effects of Poverty Whereas poverty overall has been shown to have negative effects on young children, the consequences of extreme or chronic poverty may be even more significant. There is also evidence that children in poverty are exposed to more risk factors, and the effects of these risk factors are worse for them. This phenomenon—­referred to as double jeopardy (Parker, Greer, & Zuckerman, 1988)—is an example of risk “moderation”: That is, there are worse consequences for children who are in families with very low incomes. For example, Dearing et al. (2006) used a new measure of poverty—an income-to-needs ratio—that begins to address relative, not just absolute, poverty, and to examine early impacts of poverty. (The income-to-needs ratio divides household income by the poverty threshold for a family of a given size.) Focusing on the first 54 months of life, the researchers compared outcomes for three categories: (1) chronically poor young children who lived in families with income-to-needs ratios under 1.0, that is, in poverty at three or more of the longitudinal assessments; (2) transiently poor young children whose family incometo-needs ratios fell below 1.0 at only one or two time points; and (3) young children who lived in never poor families where the income to needs ratio always exceeded 1.0. These authors found that the association between family income and externalizing behaviors was considerably larger for children who experienced chronic poverty. That is, chronicity of poverty over the early childhood period moderated the direct effect of family income on externalizing behavior problems.

8. Poverty and Infant and Toddler Development

At the same time, it should also be noted that moderating factors can lead to positive results and override the negative probabilities. In fact, although there are scores of studies that document poorer outcomes for children raised in poverty, many children and families do well and are deemed resilient. Resilience, definition, involves the intersection between exposure to a known risk factor and the positive adaptation manifest by individuals in the face of this adversity (Luthar, 2006). The current focus of many resilience researchers is to identify both risk and particularly protective factors that might modify the negative effects of adverse life circumstances, as well as to identify underlying mechanisms or processes (Luthar, 2006). This type of information, in turn, allows for the design and testing of interventions that strengthen protective factors, such as promoting the presence of a strong positive relationship with at least one parent (or other caring adult), or teaching effective parenting skills (e.g., warmth coupled with appropriate discipline) that predict resilient trajectories. Likewise, high-­quality responsive caregiving in child care can buffer the effects of poverty on young infants and toddlers (Luthar, 2006). Findings from neurobiology and behavioral genetics are also helping to better elucidate the physiological underpinnings of how economic adversity may take its toll on young children as well as how specific gene–­ environment interactions may mediate or moderate these relationships. For example, based on research by Gunnar (Gunnar & Donzella, 2002), it is becoming clear that that exposure to excessive amounts of stress during the first few years of life—­especially so-­called “toxic” stress, which results in chronic activation of the hypothalamic–­ pituitary–­adrenocortical axis—can actually disrupt the architecture of the developing brain and result in permanent changes in the infant’s stress response system (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2005; Rifkin-­Graboi et al., Chapter 4, this volume). Other provocative findings have been reported through twin studies, which are uniquely able to partition the relative contribution of genetic and environmental factors. Kim-Cohen, Moffitt, Caspi, and Taylor (2004) reported that genetic factors may


contribute up to 70% of the variation in behavioral resilience found in a large sample of monozygotic twins. However, the pathways are not simple. They pointed out that these genetic contributions take the form of so-­called “passive” transmissions: Children inherit genes that account for some portion of their ability to regulate their emotions well, and these genes may also account for the warm, loving behavior in parents. Or they could result from “active” gene–­environment interactions: In this case, the genetic contribution of the parent results in child characteristics that actually elicit warm, loving, parenting behaviors. Although these researchers did not pinpoint specific genes that might mediate these relationships, others have begun to link the presence or absence of specific genes with specific outcomes. For example, Caspi et al. (2002) reported a protective effect of the presence of a specific form of the monoamine oxidase-A (MAO-A) enzyme gene for children who were maltreated; those individuals who had the genotype associated with high levels of the MAO-A enzymes were less likely to develop antisocial disorder, compared to similar maltreated children with low levels of the gene. These same authors reported that the relationship between stressful life events and depression was moderated by a genotype (variations in the 5-HTT gene): Those with the gene that promotes efficient transport of serotonin were less likely to develop depression (Caspi et al., 2003).

Directions for Future Research As this review of the literature suggests, there is a great deal of work underway exploring the complex interplay between poverty and child development. As advances in behavioral genetics and neurobiology continue to be integrated with developmental research, it is important to make sure that the best available science is brought to bear on questions that are relevant to policymakers and practitioners. Dearing et al. (2006) argue that study designs that examine the impact of changes in poverty status over time in the same child are particularly relevant for policymakers; data derived from “within-child” study designs allow policymakers to see that children can recover from the negative effects of poverty, given sufficient changes in



their economic conditions. There is also a need to expand the research by investigating more than one child in each family, as these designs add to our understanding of the child-level factors at work in resilience. As knowledge about the interplay between parent- and child-level factors grows, there is also a need for more research that considers the family as the level of analysis (KimCohen et al., 2004; Luthar, 2006). It is also critical to address one of the disconnections between what is in the published literature and the realities of poverty in the United States. There are simply too few high-­quality studies that examine the critical role of culture in all of these processes. As noted, growing numbers of immigrant families are navigating the rocky waters of low-­income life in America; many of these stressors are similar to those experienced by American-born families. But for those families who may have entered the country illegally and those with very limited English, these stressors are compounded by lack of access to services and income supports. These are not families that typically enroll in research studies, although there is a growing number of community-based studies from which important insights into both the stressors and strengths of these families raising young children will be gained (see, e.g., Le, Lara, & Perry, 2008). Clearly, there is a critical need for more research to close the gap in our understanding of how cultural forces and factors mediate and moderate the effects of poverty in these families.

TOWARD SCIENCE-INFORMED POLICIES Both the demographic data and the increasingly nuanced understanding of how poverty impacts early development have enormous, if largely unaddressed, implications for public policies. For example, a policy framework to promote improved outcomes for infants and toddlers ought to be informed by the integrative conceptual model highlighted above. Thus the overarching goals ought to center on improving both family investment capacity/income and family processes, particularly parenting processes, through voluntary opportunities afforded to low-­income parents (except in cases where harm to babies

and toddlers requires state intervention). This means strengthening the policy focus on poverty reduction strategies, strengthening family-­focused interventions to improve parenting, and building links between these two sets of policies. It also means recognizing the importance of nonfamilial influences on development and ensuring that child care and neighborhood settings promote resilience and healthy outcomes. Below, drawing especially on a recent analysis of early childhood policies across the United States (Stebbins & Knitzer, 2007), we map current policies onto this conceptual framework.

Promoting Family Economic Security and Access to Basic Benefits As noted earlier, many low-­income families are resilient and would do fine if they could earn enough money to support themselves. But too often they can’t. For example, for a single parent to earn twice as much as the poverty level, a job would have to pay $19 an hour. In fact, most low-wage-­working parents earn at or just above the minimum wage, which, according to federal law, is $6.55, shortly to go up to $7.25. But much more needs to be done. Although more than half of the states have minimum wages that are higher than the current federal level, many states require that families with incomes below the poverty level pay personal income taxes. To make it, low-­income parents need some combination of wage supplements and what are often called “work support” benefits, such as access to health care for themselves and their children, help with housing (which they rarely get), and child care. These benefits can ensure that children get basic services when there is a gap between what families earn and what is needed to support themselves. The good news is that there is a set of national strategies that do provide a foundation for economic security. For example, the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), along with Social Security (Cauthen, 2005), is America’s largest antipoverty program. The EITC reduces the tax burden on lowwage families and, in some instances, provides a wage supplement. But not all families who could benefit know about it. In response, there have been local campaigns to improve access. For example, Louisiana, through its

8. Poverty and Infant and Toddler Development

Solutions to Poverty campaign (SToP), has embarked on a statewide campaign as an investment to increase state revenues (because of the spending that would occur). States also supplement the federal EITC with their own programs, but only 14 have refundable EITCs, which means that if the amount of credit a family receives exceeds the amount the family owes, it gets a refund (Stebbins & Knitzer, 2007). Similarly, there is a federal legislative infrastructure to support a range of benefits to low-­income families, including basic health and child care for families who cannot purchase care on their own, through programs such as Medicaid; the State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP); the Women, Infants, and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program (WIC), which is one of the few major benefit programs targeted only to young children, and particularly infants and toddlers and pregnant women; and the Child Care and Development Block Grant. Because states often have choices in how they implement these programs, the picture across the country is complex. For example, recognizing, as noted above, that in most parts of the country it takes twice the poverty level for families to begin to meet their needs without help, 41 states provide health care coverage to families at or above 200% of the official poverty level. However, only 16 states provide access to child care to families earning 200% or more of the official poverty level. This means that where a baby is born matters greatly to what kind of supports are available. For example, a young child in New Jersey has access to public health insurance, whereas a child from North Dakota in a family with half the income does not (Stebbins & Knitzer, 2007). This disparity may be good for states rights, but it is not good for children. Further, access alone is not enough. The benefits also need to be of sufficient quality to yield positive outcomes from the investment. That is, sadly, too often not the case. For example, many low-­income young children, including infants, are not receiving recommended health and dental screenings that are consistent with good pediatric practice. To encourage outreach to children who are Medicaid eligible, the federal government sets a benchmark of 80% of enrolled children receiving at least one health screen


each year. Only seven states reported that more than 80% of 1- and 2-year-olds receive at least one screening, with one state screening only 36% (Stebbins & Knitzer, 2007). The picture with respect to policy efforts to ensure quality child care is even more problematic. About 400,000 infants and toddlers are in subsidized child care, with countless others in informal care delivered by relatives and neighbors (often known as kith and kin care). The subsidy program serves far fewer families than need help to pay for child care. Even worse, over the past several years, half the states have actually reduced access to subsidized child care (Stebbins & Knitzer, 2007). Moreover, evidence suggests that too often the quality of this early child care is wanting, particularly for infants and toddlers. Only 9% of infant and toddler care was deemed high quality in one study, and only 25% of child care for preschool-age children was of high quality (Kreader, 2005). Yet only eight states meet licensing standards recommended by national organizations (and only 14 for 4-year-olds). In some states, one caregiver is allowed to care for up to nine toddlers (Stebbins & Knitzer, 2007). Other problems that can negatively impact infants and toddlers in child care include high rates of staff turnover. Because babies become attached to caregivers, the lack of continuity in relationships can be problematic, especially for infants and toddlers coming from unstable home environments. Close to half the states do report that they require that each infant or toddler in care have a primary caregiver, but it is not known what kinds of mechanisms are in place to monitor this criterion, and informally, reports of babies and toddlers with ever-­changing caregivers are common (Stebbins & Knitzer, 2007).

Toward a Coherent Framework Substantively, one major challenge is the lack of a coherent science-based framework to guide the development of policies to improve family processes, or what Knitzer (2001) called relationship-based policies. The take-home message from science is that effective, nurturing, consistent parenting is central to healthy developmental outcomes for young children, particularly infants and toddlers. Research and clinical practice also



suggest that effective parenting, in addition to adequate income, requires that parents be physically and mentally healthy, and that they have the knowledge and skills to respond to the particular characteristics and needs of their babies (which includes having age-­appropriate expectations for what babies and toddlers can and cannot do). It also requires that parents have access to outside information from physicians and others to help them identify early signs of developmental and emotional challenges in their young children. And, for the most high-risk parents, intensive efforts are needed to test the extent to which they can learn new parenting strategies and skills (Dicker, Beckmann, & Knitzer, 2009). Further, policies should recognize that strategies to support effective parenting start at least at, if not before, pregnancy. And finally, any parenting program must account for the important role that culture plays in determining what form positive parenting practices will take—as everything from where babies sleep and how long toddlers are carried around by adults is culturally mediated and has implications for social and emotional development. The current set of policies in place that map onto this knowledge base is thin. Efforts to ensure that parents of young children are physically and mentally healthy are limited at best. Thus, although infants and toddlers are likely to have access to health care, their parents typically do not. In 35 states working parents are eligible under Medicaid only if their incomes are under 100% of poverty; in 12 states under 50% of the official poverty level. Only four states extend eligibility to parents at or above 200% of the poverty (Stebbins & Knitzer, 2007). Given that the health status of low-­income parents is often poor, this lack of access is a barrier that may be linked with ineffective parenting. Of particular concern is the inability of low-­income parents, particularly mothers, to get help with mental health and challenges related to depression, as well as intimate partner violence and substance abuse. These risks are widespread, as noted above, and they are known to impact children’s development negatively. Yet, despite their widespread prevalence, there is no policy imperative to treat risk factors that impair effective parenting even for infants and toddlers. In other words, for the many parents

who are raising young children while coping with undiagnosed and untreated depression (or other mental illness) and/or who struggle with substance abuse or domestic violence, ensuring their access to health and mental health should be a core part of a parenting policy agenda, as well as embedded in an infant/toddler mental health policy agenda. One policy strategy that many countries implement (not the United States) is paid family leave for new parents. Although there is limited scientific research to support a significant relationship between more progressive parental leave policies and child well-being, there is a strong rationale for supporting policies that permit families to choose to spend more of the earliest months with a new baby. And at least one study, based on interviews with more affluent new parents, found that a shorter leave was associated with maternal depression and less healthy “preoccupation” with the infant (Feldman, Sussman, & Zigler, 2004). Under current federal law, parents working in settings with over 50 employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave following the birth/adoption of a new baby. But the reality is, there are not many families who can afford to do this; and low-­income families are least equipped to lose 12 weeks of pay. Although five states pay for maternal leave through the disability system, only California provides for paid leave for biological and adoptive parents (Stebbins & Knitzer, 2007). Parental leave allows for protected time for new parents to build relationships with their babies, but in this society, work attachment is privileged over infant–­parent attachment. Helping parents improve their parenting skills and promote more positive interactions with their babies and toddlers at a time when the brain architecture is being built so rapidly is clearly the central challenge for a policy framework that supports early effective parenting. It is also a complex challenge, best implemented through a public health lens, that would encompass strategies to promote effective parenting, identify and help parents who need more targeted assistance, and intervene early and with appropriate intensity when parenting is more problematic. Across the country, communities are struggling to implement various approaches to helping parents. But too often the efforts are fragmented, and funding is difficult to

8. Poverty and Infant and Toddler Development

sustain. Fairly typical is the experience in San Mateo County, California, where there was a very successful foundation-­funded effort to train all providers working with babies in Touchpoints, an intervention designed to help parents and caregivers learn how to read babies’ cues. Once the foundation support ended, there was no ongoing source of public dollars to sustain this effort (as cited in Knitzer & Lefkowitz, 2006). Similarly, efforts to screen for parental depression in the context of pediatric practice represents a commitment to prevention and early intervention to improve parent functioning, but policies to train staff, to build referral networks, and particularly to ensure reimbursement, remain challenging, although states and communities are making efforts to put the pieces in place (Rosman, Hepburn, & Perry, 2005). Perhaps the policy supports that are most lacking, however, are for broadly based, comprehensive, two-­generational child development and family support programs. Early Head Start, which is a national model that does have federal support, serves pregnant women and infants and toddlers at or below the poverty line (although recent legislation permits eligibility up to 130% of poverty). The program has been the subject of careful research that has shown a pattern of modest gains across a wide array of parenting practices (i.e., improved family processes) and child outcomes, particularly for families with moderate risks. Conceptually, Early Head Start is particularly important because it is a two-­generational model that encompasses specific child-­focused and family-­focused strategies, a combination that researchers suggest may be the most effective (Knitzer, 2008). It also has the potential to build in a stronger focus on family economic security, thus better linking the two conceptual pathways that interact to shape the consequences of very early poverty in childhood. But although Early Head Start is almost 15 years old, it is basically stuck, serving less than 3% of the eligible population. Estimates are that only 10 states supplement federal dollars with state dollars. Home-­visiting programs targeted to families of infants and toddlers too are often seen as part of an array of parenting programs, and one, the Nurse–­Family Partnership program, has a strong evidence base (Olds,


2002). Within the early childhood field there is some controversy as to whether it is wiser to invest in Early Head Start–type programs, evidence-based home-­visiting programs, or other national models, such as Educare, which have not been the focus of gold standard research but that require a 0–5 commitment based on an enhanced model of Early Head Start and Head Start. Whatever the view, the bottom line is that federal support for developmentally appropriate programs that are grounded in relationshipbased strategies for infants and toddlers has been, and continues to be, woefully limited. Notwithstanding the buzz about early brain science, the policy response to date has been sluggish at best.

Policies to Help Infants, Toddlers, and Families at the Highest Risk of Poor Outcomes Another policy vacuum exists for higher-risk infants, toddlers, and families, particularly where psychosocial relationship-based issues are involved. As part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, federal policymakers have built a potentially powerful policy response to babies and toddlers with developmental delays through the federal Early Intervention Program. This program requires the formulation of an individualized family service plan—­explicitly acknowledging that the developmental needs of infants and toddlers must be addressed in the context of their families’ needs, strengths, and priorities. It also, in theory, allows states to serve infants and toddlers at risk of developing delays. However, because of limited resources, only a few states include at-risk infants and toddlers in the program, and most are making eligibility even more restrictive for those with developmental delays. Also problematic is that early interventionists— most often occupational, physical, and speech therapists—­t ypically are not trained to detect and respond to social and emotional delays and relationships problems, so generally, babies with social and emotional delays, or at risk of them, do not access services. On the other hand, a recent amendment does require that all babies and toddlers involved in substantiated abuse and neglect cases be referred for early intervention assessment. However, here too, the resource gap looms



large. Estimates indicate that there are about 156,000 babies and toddlers already in foster care and thus eligible, but in fact, recent data suggest that only about 17,000 babies have been referred (Rosenberg, Smith, & Levinson, 2007), and in many places, clinicians simply do not refer. With respect to child-­specific risks, however, the bottom line is that a policy that can be improved is in place. With respect to infants and toddlers in families who are at risk by virtue of family circumstances, the policy picture is less promising. Piecing together a service response requires complex fiscal strategic planning (Johnson & Knitzer, 2005; Kaye, May, & Abrams, 2006; Perry, 2007). The basic safety net program, which serves the poorest families, is Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Unfortunately, TANF has emphasized connecting parents with the workforce, largely without attention to the health and well-being of their children. Relatively little attention has also been given to addressing the so-­called barriers to work that many of these parents experience, and virtually no recognition that barriers to work (defined typically as low educational levels, mental health issues, substance abuse, intimate partner violence, and poor health) are also barriers to effective parenting. A stronger policy focus on helping very poor families with infants and toddlers access combined parenting and work-­linked strategies might yield two-­generational benefits linked to both improved workforce attachment and child outcomes. To date, polices to address the needs of this special population have not been on the state or federal policy agenda (Knitzer & Cohen, 2007). Another set of strategies that could help high-risk families is being tested in scattered programs around the country. The approach involves embedding more intensive interventions that provide some combination of treatment for parental risks with parent– child interventions and sometimes child­focused interventions as well as Early Head Start and home-­visiting programs (Knitzer & Lefkowitz, 2006). However, given Medicaid and other fiscal restrictions, such demonstrations do not get taken to scale. In some states, for example, it is not possible to pay for parent–child therapies through the children’s mental health system and/or to pay for non-­office-based services. Through the leadership of the Commonwealth Fund,

a philanthropic organization, a number of states are crafting policy and fiscal strategies to maximize the impact of Medicaid in supporting infant and early childhood mental health strategies (Kaye et al., 2006). However, the recently enacted Deficit Reduction Act, which significantly restructures Medicaid, has resulted in new federal policies that make these, and related efforts, such as expanding mental health consultation in child care, even more difficult. Further, there has been a dismaying lack of attention to babies who must be removed from their homes, estimated to be about 156,000 in 2005. Promising approaches are emerging (Dicker et al., 2009; Osofsky & Lederman, 2004), but there is insufficient attention gives to this population in current federal policy.

TOWARD THE FUTURE The scientific case for a strengthened focus on policies that improve family economic security as well as family processes and early relationships for infants and toddlers, particularly those at the highest risk, is clear. A more responsive policy agenda is critically needed. Here we highlight 10 recommendations: 1.  Promote stronger anti-­poverty measures and work supports (e.g., access to child care and transportation) for all families with young children. 2.  Ensure that eligibility for benefit programs that support early development, particularly health and child care programs, is set at 200% of the poverty level (or higher) across the states. 3.  Build a two-­generation focus into public assistance programs (e.g., TANF) to support healthy parenting as well as workforce attachment. 4.  Increase targeted funds to enhance high-­quality infant and toddler child care for all low-­income children. 5.  Significantly expand Early Head Start–like programs for the poorest families to maximize the potential to jump-start healthy social, emotional, and cognitive development in babies and toddlers. 6.  Expand the federal Early Intervention Program (Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to ensure that infants and toddlers with, or at risk of, developmen-

8. Poverty and Infant and Toddler Development

tal delays, attachment disturbances, or other relationship-based problems get appropriate help in a timely, culturally relevant, and family-­strengthening way. 7.  Explicitly support reimbursement, through existing federal legislation such as Title V and Medicaid, for parenting interventions that promote healthy early development, and/or develop targeted legislation that provides incentives to states to help communities implement evidence-based practices, including interventions for parents with young children in child welfare. 8.  Integrate mental health services and supports, particularly through consultation strategies and the use of research-­informed therapies for families and caregivers, into the existing programs that serve young children and their families, and offer incentives for programs that provide multigenerational interventions (see Perry, Kaufmann, & Knitzer, 2007). 9.  Build a strategic policy framework that promotes effective parenting with the same degree of conviction that policies currently promote parental work. Such a framework would encompass multiple efforts: for example, (a) strengthening the focus on effective parenting in existing policies through both public health systems (e.g., Title V and Medicaid) and the child and adult mental health systems; (b) supporting communityand state-based strategic planning that address parents and improving provider skills of those who work directly with parents, including physicians; and (c) ensuring that high-risk parents, particularly those affected by substance abuse, intimate partner violence, or depression, both during pregnancy and through the infant/toddler years, are identified and receive treatment, as appropriate. 10.  Strengthen the advocacy on behalf of a birth–5 policy agenda. Those who would use science to improve policies through recommendations like these and others that have been proposed (Knitzer, 2008; Shonkoff, Lippitt, & Cavanaugh, 2000) for infants and toddlers face daunting challenges. Traditionally, policy on issues affecting children has grown out of a child-­saving frame that includes, implicitly, saving children from bad parents in poor families. This has led to a set of measures that result in a focus on high-cost remedia-


tion, for example, through juvenile justice and child welfare. This chapter calls for a strategic investment in prevention and early intervention programs. Such an undertaking requires that we challenge not just stereotypes about the poor, but also the embedded, almost knee-jerk American value of individualism that makes it difficult to build policies that place children and families, not just children, at the center. Unfortunately, notwithstanding ecological and developmental theories about how multiple contexts influence development, the policy response is to view family-­focused policies as a threat to, rather than a support system for, families. On the other had, the growing evidence about high-­quality two-­generational early childhood interventions that can improve developmental outcomes in ways that save money may, over time, be persuasive. Right now, there is evidence that the return-on­investment arguments are driving state investments in pre-K programs largely for 4-year-olds. However, it is noteworthy that at least two of the demonstration studies that are so central to making the case for two­generational interventions actually started at or before birth: Abecedarian and the Chicago Child Parent Centers. Moreover, findings from the longitudinal study of Early Head Start show that kindergarten children who had continuous access to high-­quality early experiences, starting with Early Head Start as infants and toddlers, do better once they enter kindergarten than those with discontinuous or poor-­quality experiences (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006b). This new wave of research, in the hands of informed advocates, may turn the tide for the next generation of babies born in America, and may continue to inform promising efforts to strengthen policies for infants and toddlers in other countries as well. References Aber, J. L., Jones, S., & Raver, C. (2007). Poverty and child development: New perspectives on a defining issue. In J. L. Aber et al. (Eds.), Child development and social policy: Knowledge for action. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Angel, R., Burton, L., Lindsay Chase-­Lansdale, P., Cherlin, A., & Moffitt, R. (2009). Welfare, children, and families: A three-city study [Computer



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Dalakar, J. (2005). Alternative poverty estimates in the United States: 2003 (Current Population Reports P60-227). Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau. Available at www.census.gov/ prod/2005pubs/p60-227.pdf. Dearing, E., McCartney, K., & Taylor, B. A. (2006). Within-child associations between family income and externalizing and internalizing problems. Developmental Psychology, 42(2), 237–252. Demographic data based on special analyses prepared by Ayana Douglas Hall. (2008). Annual social and economic supplement. Current Population Survey. Dicker, S., Beckmann, K., & Knitzer, J. (2009). Improving parenting for young children in child welfare: A national imperative. New York: National Center for Children in Poverty. Unpublished manuscript. Dinan, K. A. (2006). Young children in immigrant families: The role of philanthropy in building supportive policies. Report of a Meeting, Jan. 18–19, 2006. New York: Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Available at www.nccp.org/publications/pub-661.html. Douglas-Hall, A., Chau, M., & Koball, H. (2006). Basic facts about low income children: Birth to age 3. New York: National Center for Children in Poverty. Available at www.nccp.org/publications/pdf/text_679.pdf. Duncan, G. J., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (Eds.). (1997). The consequences of growing up poor. New York: Sage Foundation. Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project. (2003). Depression in the lives of Early Head Start families. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children, Youth and Families. Elder, G. H., & Caspi, A. (1988). Economic stress in lives: Developmental perspectives. Journal of Social Issues, 44, 25–45. Evans, G. W. (2004). The environment of childhood poverty. American Psychologist, 59(2), 77–92. Feldman, R., Sussman, A., & Zigler, E. (2004). Parental leave and work adaptation at the transition to parenthood: Individual, marital, and social correlates. Applied Developmental Psychology, 25, 459–479. Gershoff, E., Raver, C., Aber, L., & Lenon, M. (2007). Income is not enough: Incorporating material hardship into models of income association with parenting and child development. Chid Development, 78(1), 70–95. Gozdziak, E. M. (2006). Beyond the gateway as cited in Dinan, K. A.: Young children in immigrant families: The role of philanthropy. New York: National Center for Children in Poverty. Available at www.nccp.org/publications/pdf/ text_661.pdf. Grace, S. L., Evinder, A., & Stewart, D. E. (2003). The effect of postpartum depression on child cognitive development and behavior: A review and critical analysis of the literature. Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 6, 263–274. Gunnar, M., & Donzella, B. (2002). Social regula-

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tion of the cortisol levels in early human development. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 27, 199–220. Hart, B., & Risley, T. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Baltimore, MD: Brookes. Hernandez, D. J. (2006). Analyzing community data as cited in Dinan, K. A.: Young children in immigrant families: The role of philanthropy. New York: National Center for Children in Poverty. Available at www.nccp.org/publications/ pdf/text_661.pdf. Huston, A. C., Duncan, G. J., McLoyd, V. C., Crosby, D. A., Ripke, M. N., Weisner, T. S., et al. (2005). Impacts on children in poverty of a policy to promote employment and reduce poverty for low income parents: New hope after 5 years. Developmental Psychology, 41(6), 902– 918. Johnson, K., & Knitzer, J. (2005). Spending smarter: A funding guide for policymakers and advocates to promote social and emotional health and school readiness. New York: National Center for Children in Poverty. Available at www.nccp.org/ publications/pub_634.html. Kaye, N., May, J., & Abrams, M. (2006). State policy options to improve delivery of children development services: Strategies from the eight ABCD states. New York: Commonwealth Foundation. Kim-Cohen, J., Moffitt, T. E., Caspi, A., & Taylor, A. (2004). Genetic and environmental processes in young children’s resilience and vulnerability to socioeconomic deprivation. Child Development, 75(3), 651–668. Knitzer, J. (2001). Caring for infants and toddlers: Federal and state efforts to improve care for infants and toddlers. The Future of Children, 11, 79–97. Knitzer, J. (2008). Giving infants and toddlers a Head Start: Getting policies in sync with knowledge. Infants and Young Children, 21(1), 18–29. Knitzer, J., & Cohen, E. (2007). Promoting resilience in young children and families at the highest risk: Challenge for early childhood mental health. In D. F. Perry, R. K. Kaufmann, & J. Knitzer (Eds.), Social and emotional health in early childhood: Building bridges between services and systems (pp. 335–359). Baltimore, MD: Brookes. Knitzer, J., & Lefkowitz, J. (2006). Helping the most vulnerable infants, toddlers and their families. New York: National Center for Children in Poverty. Knudsen, E. I., Heckman, J. J., Cameron, J. L., & Shonkoff, J. D. (2006). Economic, neurobiological, and behavioral perspectives on building America’s future workforce. PNAS, 103(27), 10155–10162. Kohen, D. E., Brooks-Gunn, J., Leventhal, T., & Hertzmann, C. (2002). Neighborhood income and physical and social disorder in Canada: Associations with young children’s competencies. Child Development, 73, 1844–1860. Kreader, L. (2005). Infant and toddler child care quality: Research-to-­policy connections (#2). Available at www.childcareresearch.org.


Le, H. N., Lara, M. A., & Perry, D. F. (2008). Recruiting Latino women in the U.S. and women in Mexico in postpartum depression prevention research. Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 11(2), 159–169. Le, H. N., Lara, M. A., & Perry, D. F. (2009). Recruiting Hispanic women in the U.S. and women in Mexico in postpartum depression prevention research. Manuscript submitted for publication. Loeb, S., Fuller, B., Kagan, S. L., & Carrol, B. (2004). Child care in poor communities: Early learning effects of type, quality, and stability. Child Development, 75(1), 47–65. Love, J. M., Eliason Kisker, E., Ross, C. M., Schochet, P. Z., Brooks-Gunn, J., Paulsell, D., et al. (2004). Making a difference in the lives of infants and toddlers and their families: The impacts of Early Head Start: Vol. I: Final technical report (rev.). Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research. Available at www.mathematica-mpr. com/publications/pdfs/ehsfinalvol1.pdf. Luthar, S. (2006). Resilience in development: A synthesis of research across five decades. In D. Cicchetti & D. J. Cohen (Eds.), Developmental psychopathology: Risk, disorder, and adaptation (2nd ed., pp. 739–795). New York: Wiley. Mather, M. (2009, February). Children in immigrant families chart new path. Reports on America. McLoyd, V. C. (1998). Socioeconomic disadvantage and child development. American Psychologist, 53(2), 185–204. Mistry, R. S., Biesanz, J. C., Taylor, L. C., Burchinal, M., & Cox, M. J. (2004). Family income and its relation to preschool children’s adjustment for families in the NICHD Study of Early Child Care. Developmental Psychology, 40(5), 727–745. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2005). Excessive stress disrupts the architecture of the developing brain (Working Paper #3). Cambridge, MA: Author. NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. (Ed.). (2005). Child care and child development: Results from the NICHD Study of Early Care and Youth Development. New York: Guilford Press. Niles, M. D., Reynolds, A. J., & Roe-­S epowitz, D. (2008). Early childhood intervention and early adolescent social and emotional competence: Second-­generation evaluation evidence from the Chicago Longitudinal Study. Educational Research, 50(1), 55–73. Nylen, K. J., Moran, T. E., Fanklin, C. L., & O’Hara, M. W. (2006). Maternal depression: A review of relevant treatment approaches for mothers and infants. Infant Mental Health Journal, 27(4), 327–343. O’Campo, P. (2003). Advancing theory and methods for multi-level models of residential neighborhoods and health. American Journal of Epidemiology, 157(1), 9–14. Olds, D. (2002). Prenatal and infancy home visiting by nurses: From randomized tirals to community replication. Prevention Science, 3(3), 153–172. Osofsky, J. D., & Lederman, C. (2004). Healing



the child in juvenile court. In J. D. Osofsky (Ed.), Young children and trauma: Intervention and treatment. New York: Guilford Press. Parker, S., et al. (1988). Double jeopardy: The ­impact of poverty on early child development. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 35, 1227– 1240. Perry, D. F. (2007). Strategic financing of early childhood mental health services. In D. F. Perry, R. K. Kaufmann, & J. Knitzer (Eds.), Social and emotional health in early childhood: Building bridges between services and systems (pp. 211– 232). Baltimore, MD: Brookes. Perry, D. F., Kaufmann, R. K., & Knitzer, J. (2007). Social and emotional health in early childhood: Building bridges between services and systems. Baltimore, MD: Brookes. Petterson, S. M., & Albers, A. B. (2001). Effects of poverty and maternal depression on early child development. Child Development, 72(6), 1794– 1813. Ramey, C. T., & Ramey, S. L. (2004). Early learning and school readiness: Can early intervention make a difference? Merrill-­Palmer Quarterly, 50(1), 471–492. Rosenberg, S., Smith, E., & Levinson, A. (2007). Identifying young maltreated children with developmental delays. In R. Haskins, F. Wulczyn, & M. B. Webb (Eds.), Child protection: Using research to improve policy and practice (pp. 34– 43). Washington, DC: Brookings Institution. Rosman, E., Hepburn, K., & Perry, D. F. (2005). The best beginning: Partnerships between primary health care and mental health and substance abuse services for young children and their families. Washington, DC: National Technical Assistance Center for Children’s Mental Health, Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development. Rutter, M., & Silberg, J. (2002). Gene–­environment interplay in relation to emotional and behavioral disturbance. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 463–490. Ryan, R. M., Fauth, R. C., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2006). Childhood poverty: Implications for school readiness and early childhood education. In S. Spodek & O. Saracho (Eds.), Handbook on the education of young children (pp.  323–341). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Shonkoff, J., Lippitt, J., & Cavanaugh, D. (2000). Early childhood policy: Implications for infant mental health. In C. H. Zeanah, Jr. (Ed.), Hand-

book of infant mental health (2nd ed., pp. 503– 518). New York: Guilford Press. Stebbins, H., & Knitzer, J. (2007). Early childhood policies: A report of the Improving the Odds Project. New York: National Center for Children in Poverty. Available at www.nccp.org/publications/pub_725.html. The Bendheim-­T homan Center for Research on Child Wellbeing. (2008). The fragile families and child wellbeing study. Retrieved from www.fragilefamilies.princeton.edu/public/asp on February 12, 2008. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (1999). ECLS, Kindergarten class of 1998–1999. Washington, DC: Author. Available at www.nces.ed.gov/ecls/kindergarten.asp. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2007). Early childhood longitudinal study, birth cohort (ECLS-B) 9-month–­preschool restricted-use data file and electronic codebook (CD-ROM). (NCES 2008034). Washington, DC: Author. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2006a). National healthcare disparities report. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Rockville, MD: Author. Available at www.ahrq. gov/qual/nhdr06/nhdr06.htm. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2006b). Research to practice: Preliminary findings from the Early Head Start prekindergarten follow-up. Administration for Children and Families. Rockville, MD: Author. Available at www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/ehs/ehs_resrch/reports/prekindergarten_followup/prekindergarten_followup.pdf. Wagmiller, R. L., Lennon, M. C., Kuang, L., Alberti, P. M., & Aber, J. L. (2006). The dynamics of economic disadvantage and children’s life chances. American Sociological Review, 71, 847–866. Whitaker, R., Orzol, S., & Kahn, R. (2006). Maternal mental health, substance abuse, and domestic violence in the year after delivery and subsequent behavior problems in children. Archives of General Psychiatry, 63, 551–560. Yeung, W. J., Linver, M. R., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2002). How money matters for young children’s development: Parental investment and family process. Child Development, 73(6), 1861–1879. Zeanah, C. H., Jr. (Ed.). (2000). Handbook of infant mental health (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.

Chapter 9

Infants of Depressed Mothers Vulnerabilities, Risk Factors, and Protective Factors for the Later Development of Psychopathology Sherryl H. Goodman Sarah R. Brand


epression in mothers of infants has raised concerns for all who are involved with such families, given common understandings of the essential role of mothers in caring for their infants’ physical and emotional needs and how depression is likely to interfere with the performance of that role. The associations of depression with parenting and infant development are complex. Over the last few decades, researchers have contributed substantial knowledge to our understanding of the issues involved. In this chapter we review the research on depression in women (both pre- and postnatal, since effects may begin during pregnancy), the psychological functioning of infants of depressed mothers (especially those who may be vulnerable to the later development of psychopathology), and the likely mechanisms by which depression in mothers effects their infants. Throughout, we summarize the knowledge on alternative pathways from infant vulnerabilities to the later development of psychopathology, emphasizing the roles of risk and protective factors. Although the bulk of the research on the effects of parental depression on infants has focused on mothers, we also point to the work that has been conducted on fathers with depression and to the potential role of fathers of infants

who are affected by their mothers’ depression and suggest further work that is needed. Finally, we describe the prevention and treatment work that has been evaluated for its effectiveness and suggest work that needs to be conducted.

DEPRESSION: DEFINITIONS AND MEASUREMENT Researchers define clinically significant depression either in terms of the set of symptoms, duration, and impairment by which an individual meets criteria for a mood disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 1994) or in terms of a high score on a self-­report symptom rating scale of depression. DSM-IV divides mood disorders into depressive disorders (sometimes referred to as unipolar depression) and bipolar disorders. Bipolar disorder, which requires the presence of one or more manic or hypomanic episodes, has less often been the focus of studies of maternal depression and is not discussed in this chapter. DSM-IV further divides depressive disorders into major depression and dysthymia. A diagnosis of major depression requires the 153



occurrence of one or more episodes during which the individual exhibits, over a period of 2 weeks or more, depressed mood (in children or adolescents, this might be irritable mood) or a loss of interest or pleasure in almost all daily activities, along with a number of other symptoms, including weight loss or gain, loss of appetite, sleep disturbance, psychomotor agitation or retardation, fatigue, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, and concentration difficulties. A diagnosis of dysthymia requires a more chronic but less intense mood disturbance, with the individual having exhibited some symptoms of depression for most of a 2-year period (1 year in children and adolescents). Other researchers forego the diagnostic system and either use continuous scale scores or rely on established cutoffs on self-­report measures of depression symptoms. The most commonly used such measures are the Beck Depression Inventory–II (BDI-II; Beck, Steer, & Brown, 1997) and the Centers for Epidemiological Studies—­ Depression Scale (CES-D; Radloff, 1977). For perinatal depression, the most commonly used measure is the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS; Cox, Holden, & Sagovsky, 1987). High scores on these scales may not be specific to depression or may reveal more transient depression than would meet diagnostic criteria. Depending on the population sampled, women who score high on these measures likely include some who would meet diagnostic criteria and others who would be considered subclinical due to not meeting one or more of the criteria for a DSM-IV diagnosis (numbers of symptoms, duration, severity, or impairment). Subclinical levels of depression are also of clinical interest as they predict future onset of depressive episodes (Lewinsohn, Seeley, Soloman, & Zeiss, 2000). Further, it may be the manifestation of depressive symptoms rather than the diagnosis of depression per se that is related to birth and childhood outcomes (Weinberg et al., 2001). Perinatal depression is not a separate diagnosis according to the DSM-IV. Typically, clinically significant perinatal depression is operationalized as major depression, as defined by the DSM-IV (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Within the depressive disorders in the DSM-IV, pregnancy is not given any special consideration. On the other

hand, “postpartum” is an added “specifier” to refer to the timing of a major depressive episode. As with depression at other times in women’s lives, perinatal depression is also commonly defined as exceeding empirically established cutoff scores on rating scales, most typically the EPDS (Cox et al., 1987). Although designed to take into account the many ways that symptoms of depression may be masked by typical pregnancy and postpartum experiences (e.g., sleep problems, weight changes, energy loss), the EPDS has some shortcomings. First, it was developed among a sample of postpartum women; therefore, it may not accurately assess depression among antenatal women. Second, owing to its development in Scotland, some language in the EPDS is potentially confusing in the United States (e.g., “Things have been getting on top of me,” and “I have felt scared or panicky for no very good reason”). Nonetheless, it is the best of available instruments to assess perinatal depression and the most commonly used. Moreover, for many of the women experiencing perinatal depression, the episode will not be their first or their last because depression is a recurrent disorder. In the general population, over 80% of depressed patients have more than one depressive episode (Belsher & Costello, 1988); over 50% relapse within 2 years of recovery (Keller, Shapiro, Lavori, & Wolfe, 1982). Not surprisingly, then, prior depression has been found to be the strongest predictor of the development of depression during pregnancy and postpartum, increasing the risk of clinically significant symptoms four to five times relative to women without a history of depressive episodes (Marcus, Flynn, Blow, & Barry, 2003; O’Hara & Swain, 1996). This finding holds true even after controlling for many other factors (Rich-­Edwards et al., 2006).

Prevalence Between 6 and 17% of women experience an episode of major depression at some point in their lifetimes, a rate that is between one and a half to three times higher than that found in men (Kessler, 2006). Depression rates are especially high among women of childbearing ages (Wilhelm, 2006). The widely differing definitions of perinatal depression likely

9. Infants of Depressed Mothers

contribute to the wide range in estimates of the prevalence of depression symptoms and disorder occurring during pregnancy and the postpartum. In addition to definition issues, the variability in estimates is due to sampling characteristics that are also known to be associated with rates of depression in general populations, such as poverty, being a teenage mother, and other sociodemographic risk factors. Recent review articles (Bennett, Einarson, Taddio, Koren, & Einarson, 2004; Gavin et al., 2005) have called for studies of larger and more representative samples in order to narrow the wide 95% confidence intervals found in many studies and meta analysis.

Prevalence of Depression in Pregnant Women Rates of clinically significant levels of depressive symptoms during pregnancy have been reported to range from 8 to 51% (Bennett et al., 2004; Gotlib, Whiffen, Mount, Milne, & Cordy, 1989). This broad range reflects both definitional and sampling diversity. For the more clearly defined DSM-IV major depressive episodes during pregnancy, rates range from 10 to 17% (Evans, Heron, Francomb, Oke, & Golding, 2001; Gotlib et al., 1989; Johanson, Chapman, Murray, Johnson, & Cox, 2000), although meta-­analyses report significant variability in this estimate as well (Gavin et al., 2005).

Prevalence of Depression in Mothers of Infants Postpartum “blues” are quite common, characterizing 20–80% of new mothers (O’Hara, Schlechte, Lewis, & Wright, 1991). As estimated in a recent meta-­analysis, postpartum major or minor depression occurs in as many as 19.2% of women within the first 3 months after delivery (Gavin et al., 2005). The more narrowly defined major depression was estimated to occur in 7.1% of new mothers (Gavin et al., 2005). Thus depression is common, especially among women of childbearing and childrearing ages, and recurrent or persistent. On these bases alone, its presence in mothers has fueled concern for its potential to disrupt aspects of caregiving known to be critical for healthy child development. In the next section we introduce a developmental psychopathology perspective for understanding


the research on how depression in mothers affects their infants.

VULNERABILITIES IN INFANTS OF DEPRESSED MOTHERS Depression in pregnant and postpartum mothers has been found to be associated with several aspects of infants’ adverse development, which are known to be vulnerabilities to the later development of psychopathology.

Attachment Across multiple studies, clinically significant maternal depression was significantly associated with lower rates of secure attachment and, marginally, with higher rates of avoidant and disorganized attachment (from 17 to 28%, on average; Martins & Gaffan, 2000). Further, when clinical samples were compared to community samples, significantly higher effect sizes were found in the clinical samples, perhaps due to the chronic nature of clinical depression, along with the accompanying dysfunction between episodes (Atkinson et al., 2000). Some researchers have examined moderators and mediators of this association. For example, insecure states of mind in mothers strengthened the association between maternal postnatal depression and infant insecure attachment (McMahon, Barnett, Kowalenko, & Tennant, 2006). Another significant moderator is infant physical status. In particular, premature birth significantly moderated the association between maternal postnatal depression symptom level and infants’ quality of attachment to their mothers, even after controlling for level of neonatal health complications (Poehlmann & Fiese, 2001). One potential mediating relationship has not been supported. That is, although toddlers of depressed mothers showed the expected higher rates of insecure attachment, relative to others, this association was not found to be accounted for by contextual risks (Cicchetti, Rogosch, & Toth, 1998). In turn, infants’ quality of attachment is associated with vulnerability to the later development of depression. Specifically, insecure attachment may lead children to have negative expectancies for other relationships



and negative self-­perceptions, leaving them vulnerable to depression (Cummings & Cicchetti, 1990; Sroufe, Egeland, Carlson, & Collins, 2005). Insecure attachment has also been found to be associated with reduced left frontal brain activity, whether or not the mother had been depressed (Dawson et al., 2001). Thus the developmental course is likely to be even more complicated for insecurely attached infants of depressed mothers than for other insecurely attached infants.

Emotional and Behavioral Functioning and Regulation Several other indices of infants’ emotional and behavioral functioning have also been found to be associated with maternal depression. Of particular concern are low levels of positive affect, high levels of negative affect, and difficulties in regulating emotion and behavior, given evidence that these are vulnerabilities to the later development of depression, as is reviewed here. A few researchers began their studies during pregnancy and thus were able to examine the associations of prenatal depression with infants’ emotional or behavioral functioning. Among these findings, mothers who had been depressed or scored high on depression rating scales during pregnancy rated their infants as crying more and being more difficult to soothe (Zuckerman, Bauchner, Parker, & Cabral, 1990). Their infants have also have been observed as showing more negative affect (Huot, Brennan, Stowe, Plotsky, & Walker, 2004) and engaging in more gaze aversion while interacting with their mothers (Boyd, Zayas, & McKee, 2006). Further, infants of mothers depressed during their third trimester of pregnancy scored lower on the orientation subscale of the Brazelton Neonatal Assessment Scale (Brazelton, 1984), had more abnormal reflexes, and had less optimal scores on the Lester and Tronick excitability and withdrawal factors (Lundy et al., 1999). Others focused on maternal anxiety or stress during pregnancy, which are of interest because of strong associations between depression in women and both anxiety and stress (Klein, Corwin, & Ceballos, 2006; Monroe & Hadjiyannakis, 2002). Maternal trait anxiety measured during pregnancy has been found to be associated with infants’

perceived “difficult” temperament at 4 or 6 months postpartum, independently of postpartum depression and sociodemograhic and obstetrical risk factors (Austin, Hadzi­Pavlovic, Leader, Saint, & Parker, 2005). Prenatal stress also explained 3.3–8.2% of the variance in 3- and 8-month-olds’ attention regulation and difficult behavior and in 8-month-olds’ attention regulation, measured with both maternal report and observations (Huizink, Robles de Medina, Mulder, Visser, & Buitelaar, 2002). Infants of postnatally depressed mothers have higher levels of negative affect and lower levels of positive affect during play and during interaction with the depressed mother and others (Field, Pickens, Fox, Gonzalez, & Nawrocki, 1998) and with premature, ineffective efforts to self-­regulate (Tronick & Gianino, 1986). Infants of women with elevated symptom levels of depression, compared to those whose mothers score low, have also been rated by observers as drowsier or fussier, less relaxed or content, and as engaging in less toy exploration and less focused play (Abrams, Field, Scafidi, & Prodrmidis, 1995). Similarly, observers rate infants of clinically diagnosed depressed mothers, compared to those with nondepressed mothers, as tenser, less happy, and as showing less tolerance for lab procedures and less distress during maternal separation (Cohn & Campbell, 1992). Infants’ emotional and behavioral functioning has been found to be a vulnerability factor for the later development of depression and other psychopathology (Fox, 1994; Southam-Gerow & Kendall, 2002). For example, infants’ frustrated attempts to obtain needed external regulation from depressed mothers has been observed to lead to their engaging in self-­directed regulatory behaviors, foretelling a retreat from engagement with the social world (Tronick & Gianino, 1986). More broadly, less ability to self­regulate emotions might emerge as a generalized dysregulation of emotion and behavior or, more specifically, as heightened sensitivity to stressors (e.g., interparental conflict, parental distress); a threatened sense of emotional security; undercontrolled behavior with parents and peers, including aggression; or, alternatively, overcontrolled behavior or suppression of emotions as a way of coping with stressful situations (Cohn & Tronick,

9. Infants of Depressed Mothers

1983; Zahn-­Waxler, Iannotti, Cummings, & Denham, 1990). That is, these aspects of functioning may foretell either aggression or withdrawal (Cummings, Keller, & Davies, 2005). Infants’ more predominant negative affect is also of concern because it may be associated with a tendency to elicit sad affect in interacting partners (Field et al., 1988) and with a predisposition to negatively biased perceptions (Fagen & Prigot, 1993). Negative affect itself is also related to later learning difficulties (Bugental et al., 1992). Thus, the aspects of infants’ emotional and behavioral functioning and regulation that have been found to be associated with either antenatal or postnatal depression in mothers has implications for problems in adaptation to situations encountered later in development, suggesting multiple pathways for the development of depression and other psychological problems.

Neuroendocrine and Psychophysiological Functioning It is now understood that stress during pregnancy influences aspects of fetal development that are relevant to later emotional and behavioral functioning (Wadhwa et al., 2002). It is also understood that important aspects of brain functions and neurobehavioral mechanisms continue to emerge after birth. Relevant to the latter point, researchers are beginning to understand the extent to which the infant brain is sensitive to early life stress. The frontal lobe, which plays a large role in the regulation of emotion, has been the major focus (see Graham, Heim, Goodman, Miller, & Nemeroff, 1999, for a review). Thus perinatal depression and the often co-­occurring stress and anxiety may influence infants’ neuroendocrine and psychophysiological functioning both during fetal development and in postnatal life. Consistent with these ideas, researchers have found that infants of mothers depressed during their third trimester of pregnancy show higher levels of cortisol and norepinephrine at birth, along with lower levels of dopamine, than infants of mothers who were not depressed during pregnancy (Lundy et al., 1999). Researchers report similar findings in infants in association with postpartum depression: Infants of postpartum de-


pressed mothers have elevated levels of stress hormones (norepinephrine and cortisol) relative to infants of mothers who score low on depression scales (Field, Fox, Pickens, & Nawrocki, 1995; Lundy et al., 1999). Both prenatal and postnatal depression have been found to be associated with lower vagal tone (Dawson et al., 2001; Field et al., 2004; Field, Pickens, Fox, Nawrocki, & Gonzalez, 1995). Infants with depressed mothers also exhibit atypical patterns of frontal electroencephalograph (EEG) asymmetry: Compared to infants of nondepressed mothers, infants of depressed mothers exhibited reduced left frontal brain activity during playful interactions with their mothers (Dawson et al., 1999; Field, Fox, et al., 1995; Lundy, Jones, et al., 1999). In a follow-up study when the children were 4–5 years old, children’s frontal brain activation, along with the family’s contextual risk level, mediated associations between mothers’ depression and child behavior problems (Dawson et al., 2003). These aspects of neuroendocrine and psychophysiological functioning in infants, based on extensive research on cortisol, vagal tone, and EEG asymmetries, are of concern as evidence of vulnerability to the development of psychopathology. Cortisol is widely accepted as an index of stress reactivity, including in infants (Gunnar, 2006). Yet among infants, it is important to interpret findings on cortisol cautiously, given evidence that high day-to-day and weekto-week intraindividual variability in basal cortisol is typical of infants between 5 and 8 months, whether due to their hyperreactive hormonal systems or to their being extremely sensitive to variations in their environments (de Weerth & van Geert, 2002). Intraindividual variations of cortisol changes in response to stress are smaller and show modest associations, even across time, from ages 4–6 months (Gunnar, Brodersen, Krueger, & Rigatuso, 1996). Findings of predictive associations from infant cortisol reactivity to later indices of emerging psychopathology include higher newborn cortisol levels (measured following heel-stick blood draws) associated with 6-month-olds’ mother-rated diminished distress to limitations, a dimension of temperament (Gunnar, Porter, Wolf, & Rigatuso, 1995). This association, which is in the opposite direction of simi-



lar associations found with older children, was interpreted by the authors as suggesting that greater reactivity, particularly early in infancy, may predict better regulation even by later in the first year, as has been found by Porges, Doussard-­Roosevelt, and Maiti (1994). Other findings link infants’ low cortisol reactivity with secure attachment (Gunnar & Vazquez, 2001). With regard to EEG asymmetry, in studies of unselected infants and adults, right-brain activation is associated with the experience and expression of the negative emotions of sadness and distress, a tendency to withdraw and avoid interaction, and lower behavioral initiation, whereas activation of the left frontal region is associated with positive emotions of joy and interest (Davidson & Fox, 1982; Fox, 1994; Gotlib, Ranganath, & Rosenfeld, 1998). In depressed adults, reduced left frontal activity was not only present during episodes but persisted into remission (Davidson, Schaffer, & Sharon, 1985; Henriques & Davidson, 1990). In addition, the atypical pattern exhibited by children with depressed mothers has been found to be predictive of an infants’ vulnerability to experience negative affect (Davidson & Fox, 1989) and thus may be a marker of current or chronic depressed mood state (Field et al., 1995). Asymmetry in 7- to 12-montholds is associated with infant affect, indexed by latency to cry in response to maternal separation (Bell & Fox, 1994). Also, nearly all 3-month-olds who showed right frontal asymmetry continued to show the same pattern at age 3 years and also were observed to be more inhibited relative to other children (Jones et al., 1998). Of all three of these constructs, vagal tone shows the strongest evidence of reliability and stability (Fracasso, Porges, Lamb, & Rosenberg, 1994), and along with the other measures, shows strong associations with the later development of psychopathology (Porges, 2005). This is also a particularly useful index of stress reactivity in infants because it can be reliably recorded as early as 1 week in infants (Jones et al., 1998). Also intriguing is emerging evidence linking these neuroendocrine and psychophysiological vulnerabilities to each other. In newborns, higher baseline vagal tone was significantly correlated with higher cortisol levels, following heel-stick blood draws

(Gunnar et al., 1995), and in 6-month-old infants, higher basal and stressor reactive cortisol levels were associated with relatively greater right EEG asymmetry (Buss et al., 2003).

Cognitive-Intellectual Functioning Infants of depressed mothers have been found to score lower on the Bayley Scales of Infant Development and, for toddlers or preschool-age children, on the McCarthy Scales of Children’s Abilities (Field, Estroff, et al., 1996; Hay & Kumar, 1995; Jones et al., 1998; Murray, 1992; Whiffen & Gotlib, 1989). Similar effects are found for exposure to prenatal stress (King & Laplante, 2005). Maternal postpartum depression has also been found to influence children’s cognitive functioning prospectively to age 11 years, even after controlling for socioeconomic status (SES; Hay et al., 2001). While scores on the Bayley and other scales of infant development are not perfect predictors of future intellectual functioning, infants’ scores on the Bayley are important because they have been found to be predictive of cognitive functioning later during childhood (DiLalla et al., 1990; Rose & Wallace, 1985). Cognitive and intellectual functioning, although sometimes conceptualized as a moderator in models of risk for children with depressed mothers (Goodman & Gotlib, 1999), also may be important to consider as an outcome. Trouble concentrating and making decisions, as well as other symptoms, may emerge as early signs of depression in the offspring and have the strong potential to interfere with intellectual and academic functioning, while by adolescence the associated school failures may increase the risk of depression (Lewinsohn et al., 1994).

Possible Mechanisms of Effects Heritability Among the primary mechanisms to explain the development of psychopathology in infants of depressed mothers is heritability, alone and in relationship with environmental factors. Genetics are likely to contribute substantially to psychobiological systems in infants of depressed mothers that are associ-

9. Infants of Depressed Mothers

ated with the development of psychopathology. Estimates of heritability of depression in children have ranged widely, most likely due to problems in measuring depression (e.g., the source of information, use of rating scales vs. diagnoses) and variability in severity, children’s ages, and gender. Evidence also suggests that heritability is unlikely to be specific to depression. Rather, it likely contributes to the risk for the other disorders that have been identified in higher rates in children of depressed mothers, relative to others (Moldin, 1999; Tsuang & Faraone, 1990). At the same time, researchers have found intriguing support for the serotonin transporter (5-HTTLPR) gene in stress–­ diathesis models. Caspi et al. (2003) found that a functional polymorphism of this gene moderated the prospective association between stressful life events and depression in a birth-­cohort sample of young adults. The importance of identifying susceptibility genes for major depression is tied to the promise of revealing the biological mechanisms regulated by these genes that may increase vulnerability to the development of depression in children who inherit these gene variations. Accepting the idea that identifying genes associated with heritability of depression, per se, is unlikely, others have studied heritability of the vulnerabilities to depression, such as those in the Goodman and Gotlib (1999) model. Evidence of significant levels of heritability have been found for individual differences in behavioral inhibition and shyness (Cherny, Fulker, Corley, Plomin, & DeFries, 1994), low self-­esteem (Loehlin & Nichols, 1976), neuroticism (Tellegen et al., 1988), sociability and expression of negative emotion (Plomin et al., 1993), subjective well-being (Lykken & Tellegen, 1996), and frontal EEG asymmetry (Anokhin, Heath, & Myers, 2006). High levels of heritability are even found for individual differences in the autonomic processes related to reactivity to emotional stimuli, such as heart rate variability and vagal tone (Davidson, Ekman, Saron, Senulis, & Friesen, 1990; Healy, 1992; Porges, 2001) and at least basal levels of indices of hypothalamic–­adrenal (HPA) axis activity (if not reactivity) (Bartels, Van den Berg, Sluyter, Boomsma, & de Geus, 2003; Wust, Federenko, van Rossum, Koper, & Hellhammer, 2005; Young, Aggen, Prescott,


& Kendler, 2000). It seems essential to include heritability in models of psychopathology transmission from depressed mothers to their infants. Other advances in the study of heritability include tests of several proposed theoretical models of the interface between genetics and other mechanisms to explain associations between maternal depression and child psychopathology (Goodman, 2003). These include passive, reactive, and active gene–­ environment correlation or covariation (Goldsmith, Gottesman, & Lemery, 1997; Rutter et al., 1997); gene–­environment interactions such as stress–­diathesis models (Caspi et al., 2003; Monroe & Simons, 1991); genetic vulnerabilities interacting with other biological vulnerabilities or cognitive vulnerabilities (Coccaro, Silverman, Klar, Horvath, & Siever, 1994); genes interacting with other genes (Goldsmith, Gottesman, et al., 1997); stress–­diathesis models with diatheses other than genetics (such as temperament; Cicchetti & Toth, 1998; Goldsmith, Buss, & Lemery, 1997; Sameroff, 1995); and child qualities evoking environmental qualities (Field, Healy, Goldstein, & Guthertz, 1990; Teti & Gelfand, 1991). Twin studies also reveal that genetic factors are significant in influencing individual differences in susceptibility to environmentally mediated risk. For example, Silberg et al. (2001) found support for an environmentally mediated effect of independent, negative life events on adolescent depression only in the presence of parental emotional disorder.

Depression in Pregnancy and Risk Mechanisms Among several possible mechanisms relevant to fetal development, maternal cortisol has attracted the most attention. Basal maternal cortisol accounts for 50% of the variance in the fetus’s levels of cortisol, suggesting some placental transfer of cortisol (Gitau, Cameron, Fisk, & Glover, 1998; Glover, 1997). Evidence from preclinical studies suggests that fetal exposure to high glucocorticoids produces lasting damage to the hippocampal area (Uno et al., 1994), increasing the risk of infants being born with dysfunctional neuroregulatory systems. The latter might be apparent in a susceptibility to show elevated cortisol in response to stress, in EEG asymmetries, in lower cardiac vagal



tone, in a predilection to experience negative/withdrawal emotions, and other early signs of vulnerability. Beyond transmission through neuroendocrine mechanisms, reduced urinary artery blood flow to the fetus is another way in which risk for the development of psychopathology may be transmitted from depressed (and stressed or anxious) mothers to their infants. Maternal anxiety during pregnancy has been associated with reduced uterine blood flow during the third trimester of pregnancy, which was in turn associated with lower birthweight and premature birth (Glover, 1997). Reduced uterine blood flow may interfere with the transmission of nutrients from the mother to the fetus. Finally, fetal activity level and fetal heart-rate variability are gaining some interest as further possible mechanisms of transmission of risk from depressed pregnant women to their infants. In Glover’s work, maternal trait anxiety and stress in the third trimester are also associated with higher fetal heart rate, which, like reduced uterine blood flow, was associated with lower birthweight and also with lower neonatal attention orientation and arousal (Emory, Walker, & Cruz, 1983; Glover, Teixeira, Gitau, & Risk, 1998; Teixeira, Fisk, & Glover, 1999).

Parenting Impairments as Risk Mechanism The qualities of parenting that are associated with healthy infant development are well known and reviewed elsewhere (Sroufe et al., 2005). Mothers with depression may lack the reliable and responsive parenting known to be necessary for infants’ healthy attachment relationships. In addition to lack of responsiveness, researchers have begun to identify certain qualities of parenting as stressful for infants, such as intrusiveness or hostility. Both Dawson et al. (2003) and Field (2002) have proposed that good-­quality parenting is required to support healthy brain development that continues into the first few years of postnatal life (we elaborate on this point later in the chapter). In any case, depressed mothers’ inadequate parenting has implications for infants’ subsequent adaptation, suggesting multiple alternative pathways for the development of depression. Next we review the findings on both of these parenting aspects that have been found to be more

common in depressed mothers’ parenting of infants than in other mothers. Unresponsive or Neglectful Parenting.  Inattentive or emotionally unresponsive mothers of infants are central to both Tronick and Gianino’s (1986) mutual regulation model and Field’s (1985) psychobiological attunement model. According to both of these models, a mother’s failure to respond to her infant’s need for help with behavioral or affective regulation ultimately contributes to the infant’s difficulty in developing arousal modulation. Initially, the infant becomes agitated in attempts to elicit responses from the mother, then withdraws and begins to show signs of depression. Findings consistent with these models come from studies of infants whose mothers were instructed to simulate depression as well as studies of infants with depressed mothers. In the now well-­established Still-Face Paradigm, even when nondepressed mothers are instructed to respond to their infant’s positive affect displays with a still face, their infants respond with sober expressions and avert their gaze from their mother (Cohn & Elmore, 1988; Cohn & Tronick, 1983). In nearly three decades of work on the paradigm, infants’ observable disturbance (increased gaze aversion and decreased smiling) in response to this experimental manipulation have been well replicated in infants from 2 to 9 months of age (Adamson & Frick, 2003). Although there is no general agreement on how to explain the phenomena, most often invoked are notions of infants’ expectations in social interactions with their mothers. Most central to the concerns of this chapter are findings that the paradigm represents parenting that is more typical of depressed mothers’ faceto-face interaction with their infants than others’, and that this quality of depressed mothers’ interactions is stressful to infants (Haley & Stansbury, 2003; Moore, Cohn, & Campbell, 2001; Stoller & Field, 1982). In routine face-to-face interactions between depressed mothers and their infants, these mothers have been observed to display less positive affect, more frequent expressions of sadness, and fewer expressions of interest than well mothers. For example, mothers’ higher levels of depression symptoms were associated with less synchrony in their interaction with their 6-month-old

9. Infants of Depressed Mothers

infants (Lundy, 2002). In a much larger sample, depressed mothers interacting with their 2-month-old infants were observed to be less sensitively attuned and less affirming of their infants’ behavior (Murray, Fiori­Cowley, Hooper, & Cooper, 1996). Infants with depressed mothers have been observed to engage in behaviors such as gaze and head aversion, consistent with the idea that the infants were using self-­regulatory behaviors to minimize the negative affect associated with maternal unresponsiveness. Some researchers observed infants’ reactions to the withdrawn or unresponsive parenting that has been found more commonly in depressed than in well mothers of infants. For example, Lyons-Ruth and her colleagues found that infants whose mothers related to them in a fearful and withdrawn manner, in contrast to intrusive mothers (as described in the next section), were more likely to develop disorganized secure attachment styles with signs of apprehension and dysphoria (Lyons-Ruth, Lyubchik, Wolfe, & Bronfman, 2002). In a longitudinal study, infants of depressed mothers whose behavior with their infant had been classified as withdrawn when the infant was 3 months of age, showed less adaptive interactive behavior and lower scores on the Mental Scale of the Bayley Scales of Infant Development at 1 year than infants of nonwithdrawn depressed mothers (Jones et al., 1997). Boys may be particularly vulnerable to a withdrawn maternal interaction style, perhaps associated with boys’ greater need for regulatory support (Weinberg et al., 2006). Intrusive, Harsh, or Coercive Parenting.  Inadequate parenting may also be characterized as intrusive, harsh, or coercive. Researchers have revealed that maternal depression is associated not only with a withdrawn, unresponsive pattern of interaction with their infants, but also with a pattern of hostile–­intrusive overstimulation (Cohn, Matias, Tronick, Lyons-Ruth, & Connell, 1986; Field et al., 1990). Mothers with depression, relative to others, have been observed to overstimulate, to be more physically intrusive (e.g., poking and jabbing their infants), to more often interfere with the infants’ exploratory activities, and to show more hostile and irritable affect (Cohn et al., 1986; Lyons-Ruth, Zoll,


Connell, & Grunebaum, 1986; Malphurs et al., 1996). Maternal hostility and intrusiveness, in turn, has been found to be associated with infant avoidance and fussiness. Intrusive or hostile mothers interfere with their infants’ autonomous functioning (Egeland, Pianta, & O’Brian, 1993). Cohn et al. (1986) observed that infants interacting with their intrusive mothers protested less than 5% of the time and spent 55% of the time avoiding their mothers. Field and colleagues noted a high frequency of fussing in infants interacting with their intrusive mothers (Field et al., 1990). One study has shown that girls may be more vulnerable than boys to intrusive mothering, whereas, as stated above, boys are more vulnerable than girls to withdrawn mothering (Weinberg & Tronick, 1998). Each of these behavioral reactions could contribute to risk for depression, especially in terms of the infants’ contribution to transactional patterns. Unpredictable Parenting.  Although some researchers treat withdrawn and intrusive parenting as types of parenting that characterize subsets of depressed women (Field, Hernandez-Reif, & Diego, 2006), others observe that mothers with depression are likely to alternate between withdrawn and intrusive modes of interacting with their infants (Lyons-Ruth et al., 2002). Even if this unpredictable pattern is true of only a subset of depressed mothers, it is of concern given that this pattern is likely to be particularly experienced as stressful by infants and may adversely influence their neurobiological development during early postnatal life. For example, infants exposed to unpredictable parenting may develop the pattern of reduced left frontal electrical brain activity. These neurobiological alterations are associated with a diminished capacity to experience joy and a heightened tendency to experience negative affect and, thus, may contribute to risk for developing depression and other problems (e.g., Jones et al., 1997).

Adversity as a Risk Mechanism Perinatal depression, like depression that occurs at other times, often emerges in the context of a range of psychosocial adversities. Adversities themselves have well-known



associations with infant vulnerabilities for the development of psychopathology (Rutter, 2000). Thus researchers have been challenged to understand the independent, interacting, and possibly mediating relationships between maternal depression and adversities and the emergence of infant vulnerabilities to the development of psychopathology. Depression, especially during the pregnancy and postpartum period, is often accompanied by high levels of anxiety and stress, which may be both etiological (Kendler, Kessler, Neale, Heath, & Eaves, 1993; Monroe & Simons, 1991) and consequential of depression (Hammen, 1991). Both state and trait anxiety as well as perceived stress and hassles are highly associated with depression in samples of pregnant women (Austin et al., 2005; DaCosta, Larouche, Dritsa, & Brender, 2000; O’Connor, Heron, Glover, & Team, 2002). Other adversities often accompanying depression include restrictions on individuals’ levels of general functioning, such as those problems that characterize individuals with personality disorders (Klein, Durbin, Shankman, & Santiago, 2002; O’Sullivan, 2004). In a sample of pregnant women, depression symptom levels were strongly negatively associated with problems in social functioning and with emotional problems interfering with work or other activities (McKee, Cunningham, Jankowski, & Zayas, 2001). Several researchers have examined independent and interacting contributions of maternal depression and adversities to the emergence of vulnerabilities to the development of psychopathology in infancy. Some researchers find that adversities and maternal perinatal depression each independently predict infant vulnerabilities. For example, both adversity and postpartum depression at infant age 2 months predicted infant attachment (Murray et al., 1996). More research is needed to determine the model that best explains associations between maternal depression and adversities and infant functioning.

FATHERS AND THEIR ROLES The role of the father has often been ignored when examining the effect of maternal depression on infants (Connell & Goodman, 2002). As outlined by Goodman and Gotlib

(1999), fathers have the potential to increase the risk for psychopathology in children of depressed mothers or serve as a protective factor for their children. Of particular concern has been psychopathology in the fathers of infants whose mothers are depressed. Assortative mating increases the likelihood that a woman with depression will have a spouse who also has a psychiatric illness or disorder or a family history of psychiatric illness (Matthews & Reus, 2001). In other words, children of depressed mothers have a higher than average likelihood of having a father with psychopathology, which, through genetics and/or environmental influences, can serve as an additional risk factor. Depression in fathers adds to the genetic risk for depression in children as much as depression in mothers (Kendler, Gardner, Neale, & Prescott, 2001). Nevertheless, the actual genetic mechanism of transmission may differ depending on whether the depressed parent is the mother or the father (Kendler et al., 2001). Given the high likelihood of infants with depressed mothers having a father who also has psychopathology, more research is needed to understand how these influences may both differ and work together. In the few studies of the effects of paternal depression and other disorders on infant and young children’s outcome when the mother is also depressed, fathers’ psychopathology is typically found to contribute to the prediction of child psychopathology beyond that explained by maternal depression (Eiden & Leonard, 1986; Goodman, Brogan, Lynch, & Fielding, 1993; Thomas & Forehand, 1991; Weissman et al., 1984). For example, in one such study, higher levels of paternal depression were associated with higher levels of internalizing behavior in children and predicted child internalizing problems even after controlling for maternal depression (Marchand & Hock, 1998). In one of the few studies of postpartum depression in fathers as well as mothers, the health behaviors recommended by pediatricians (e.g., putting the baby to sleep on his or her back, putting the child to sleep while awake) were least likely to be followed when both parents were depressed and most likely to be followed when neither parent was depressed (Paulson, Dauber, & Leiferman, 2006). Although not specific to maternal depression, the general literature on roles of fathers

9. Infants of Depressed Mothers

finds that fathers play a moderating role in associations between maternal parenting and child outcomes. For example, mothers’ parenting is found to be more positive in the presence of available and supportive fathers (Crnic, Greenberg, Ragozin, Robinson, & Basham, 1983; Crockenberg, 1986; Tamis-LeMonda & Cabrera, 2002; Teti & Gelfand, 1991). Also relevant are findings that in the context of good marital relationships, fathers are more involved with their children relative to fathers with poor marital relationships (Shannon, Tamis-LeMonda, & Margolin, 2005). Fathers can also have a positive moderating effect on infants. In a longitudinal community sample that followed children and their families from infancy to kindergarten, fathers with high levels of warmth buffered children from maternal depression during infancy, although only if the father spent relatively small amounts of time with the infant (Mezulis, Hyde, & Clark, 2004). They also found that even if the father was also depressed, if he spent small amounts of time with the infant, then he or she had fewer internalizing problems at kindergarten age than if the father spent greater quantities of time with the infant. These findings suggest the need for further study to sort out the roles of quantity and quality of infants’ time with fathers in the context of maternal depression. Another way that fathers may influence the risk for psychopathology in children of depressed mothers is through their relationship with the child’s mother. Maternal depression is often accompanied by marital conflict, and depression commonly co-­occurs with perceptions of relationships as less supportive or available (Brown & Harris, 1978; Fredman, Weissman, Leaf, & Bruce, 1988). There has also been support for the association between depression symptoms, less social support, and poorer marital adjustment in pregnant women (O’Connor et al., 1998; Zelkowitz et al., 2004) and in the postpartum (Cutrona & Troutman, 1986; O’Hara & Swain, 1996)

CLINICAL PRACTICE Research has unequivocally established the effect of depression during pregnancy and postpartum on poor infant and childhood


outcome. As described in this chapter, these vulnerabilities to the development of a psychiatric disorder later in life are seen in infants in the areas of attachment, emotion and behavior regulation, neuroendocrine and psychophysiological functioning, and cognitive and intellectual functioning. Despite the promise that preventive or early interventions may prevent the later development of depression and other disorders, very few interventions have been developed. Research groups such as Field and her colleagues, Cicchetti and his colleagues, and Weissman and the sequenced treatment alternatives to relieve depression (STAR*D) have found empirical support for the effects of interventions for both infants and their depressed mothers. This research is reviewed here. Given deficits that have been identified in infants’ physiological self-­regulation, Field and her colleagues examined the effectiveness of infant massage therapy, a relatively short-term (6 week) intervention that is cost effective (mothers are taught to massage the infant in a group setting). Infants of depressed adolescent mothers benefited, as indicated by an association of the intervention with lowered salivary cortisol levels directly following the massage; weight gain (more so than infants who were rocked as opposed to massaged) throughout the protocol; improved emotionality, sociability, soothability temperament dimensions; and improved face-to-face interaction ratings (Field, Grizzle, et al., 1996). Pregnancy massage has also been successfully used as a similar intervention, in order to reduce levels of stress hormones in the mothers and to decrease obstetric complications, thus potentially preventing some of the known vulnerabilities in infants of depressed mothers (Field, 2002) Other interventions target the problems with insecure attachment that have been found in infants of depressed mothers. Toddler–­parent psychotherapy is an intervention to promote secure attachment in toddlers of depressed mothers. When toddlers of depressed mothers who received the intervention were compared to those who did not receive the intervention and a control group, the children in the intervention group had comparable rates of secure attachment to those in the control group whose mothers were not depressed. Toddlers of depressed mothers who did not receive the intervention continued to show higher rates



of attachment insecurity (Cicchetti, Toth, & Rogosch, 1999). Others consider that facilitating mothers’ recovery from depression is likely to benefit children’s outcome. Weissman and her STAR*D colleagues were among the first to examine the change in diagnosis and symptoms in children of mothers who were treated with antidepressants. Children of the women who had a full remission of depression after a 3-month treatment with antidepressants (33% of study subjects) showed an 11% decrease in diagnosis compared to an 8% increase in diagnosis seen in children whose mothers did not recover from depression during the study window. In children who had no diagnosis prior to the study, none developed a diagnosis if their mother showed a remission in depression, compared to 17% of the children who acquired a diagnosis if their mother did not improve (Weissman et al., 2006). Although each of these interventions is promising, much work remains to be done. Prevention of depression is increasingly recognized as an effective approach (Le, Munoz, Ippen, & Stoddard, 2003). Important next steps regarding perinatal depression are to develop better measures of depression in pregnancy and the postpartum, to institute systematic screening for perinatal depression, to reduce barriers to interventions, and to continue to design and test ways to intervene in the mechanisms and outcomes associated with depression in mothers. Finally, more longitudinal studies are needed to learn more about trajectories from the vulnerabilities noted in infants of depressed mothers—both paths to recovery and to disorder. References Abrams, S. M., Field, T., Scafidi, F., & Prodrmidis, M. (1995). Newborns of depressed mothers. Infant Mental Health Journal, 16, 233–239. Adamson, L. B., & Frick, J. E. (2003). The still face: A history of a shared experimental paradigm. Infancy, 4, 451–473. American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author. Anokhin, A. P., Heath, A. C., & Myers, E. (2006). Genetic and environmental influences on frontal EEG asymmetry: A twin study. Biological Psychology, 71, 289–295.

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C h a p t e r 10

Parental Substance Abuse Neil W. Boris


arental substance use is an important public health problem and a complex risk factor impacting infant development. According to the most recent available data, about 5% or approximately 200,000 neonates in the United States were exposed to illicit drugs in utero (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2008a) while just over 10% (more than 400,000 neonates) were exposed to alcohol (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2008b). Estimating the social cost of substance abuse is complex because the intangible costs of parental substance abuse have not been adequately captured (French, Rachal, & Hubbard, 1991). Intangible costs might include, for instance, the costs of malnutrition associated with drug use, a factor relevant to infant development. Even when such intangible costs are not considered, the overall cost of drug abuse in the United States in 2002 is estimated to have been $180.9 billion (Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2004). As Lester, Boukydis, and Twomey (2002) noted in the second edition of this volume, the projected costs of maternal substance abuse are also rarely considered. For instance, extra educational expenditures multiply over time

for those children with deficits in attention and cognitive processing due, in part, to prenatal drug exposure. Given that about 1 in 10 pregnancies is impacted by drug and/ or alcohol use, the absolute numbers of affected infants and children is large. It would be one thing if effective and accessible interventions for pregnant women were available—some of the future costs associated with parental substance abuse might be mitigated. Unfortunately, a recent meta-­analysis concluded that there is no evidence that outpatient treatment of pregnant women substance abusers results in abstinence or in improved pregnancy outcomes (Terplan & Lui, 2007). The lack of evidence, however, reflects more than one problem. First, the number of well-­designed trials of treatment for pregnant drug-using women is few. Second, the intensity of intervention represented by these trials is limited; it would not be surprising if outcomes and intensity of treatment were linked. Finally, access to care for pregnant women is low, and evaluation of other types of programs (e.g., residential treatment) has not been adequate to draw broad conclusions (Greenfield et al., 2004). Of course, access to substance abuse treatment in the United States is of serious 171



concern for all adults, not just pregnant women. Infants and young children who are not exposed to drugs in utero may still be adversely impacted by parental drug use. It is discouraging, that, for instance, large-scale studies of persons with both mental health and substance abuse conditions suggest that few receive drug treatment (Wu, Ringwalt, & Williams, 2003). A significant proportion of adults with comorbid mental health and substance abuse conditions are parents of infants and young children. The limited treatment options for substance-­abusing parents means that infants and young children suffer (Luthar, Suchman, & Altomare, 2007). The adverse effects of parental substance abuse may be difficult for clinicians to unpack. Recent research suggests that the ways in which parental substance abuse affects infants can be framed along three basic dimensions. First, there are direct effects—­exposure to drugs in utero impacts the developing fetus in ways that result in developmental consequences. Second, there are genetic effects—­parents who abuse substances are more likely to have underlying traits that influence parenting behavior. Finally, parental substance abuse is linked to a series of other risk conditions impacting the social environment of infants. When risk factors combine, negative developmental effects can be large and lasting. In individual cases, it is either impossible or impractical to separate direct effects, genetic effects, and the effects of cumulative risks on a given infant’s development. For the clinician, however, tracing the impact of substance abuse on a given infant’s development will require considering the interplay among all three dimensions. Likewise, effective intervention often requires family-based strategies that target key developmental processes impacted by all three dimensions. This chapter is organized around the three dimensions. First, evidence regarding the developmental effects tied to direct exposure to drugs and/or alcohol is reviewed, using alcohol and cocaine as examples. Next, parental genetic effects associated with substance abuse are considered and linked to the available data on the parenting practices of substance abusers. Finally, the importance of considering co-­occurring risk factors as they impact the developing infant is underscored.

DIRECT EFFECTS OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE The direct effects of substance exposure on the developing fetus have been studied intensively, though such research is complicated by numerous factors (Shankaran et al., 2007). One factor that complicates research on direct effects is the variation that occurs in the degree to which different substances impact fetal organ systems. Alcohol, for instance, is a potent neurotoxin. Even though the mechanisms by which alcohol affects neuron growth are complex, the end result of fetal alcohol exposure early in pregnancy can be the death of large numbers of neurons (Olney, Farber, Wozniak, Jevtovic-­Todorovic, & Ikonomidou, 2000), and a series of neuroanatomical changes associated with alcohol exposure have been documented (Chen, Maier, Parnell, & West, 2003). Other drugs, such as cocaine, may injure neurons but generally not by directly killing them (Ren, Malanga, Tabit, & Kosofsky, 2004). Although cocaine can cause blood vessels to contract, and this contraction can result in injury to fetal organs or to the placenta, cocaine’s direct effects on neurons appears to be less of an issue (Plessinger & Woods, 1993). A second factor complicating research on direct effects is that the timing, dose, and duration of exposure may be critical in determining how the fetus is impacted—­ factors that are almost always difficult to pin down. So, for instance, even though alcohol is a direct neurotoxin, a recent review suggests that low-to-­moderate alcohol use in pregnancy has not been shown definitively to adversely affect fetal and infant development (Henderson, Gray, & Brocklehurst, 2007). On the other hand, there is evidence that even sporadic use in pregnancy has been linked to fetal alcohol effects, and such sporadic use is not uncommon among women who drink during pregnancy (MartínezFrías, Bermejo, Rodríguez-­Pinilla, & Frías, 2004). The question of how much alcohol exposure is enough to directly affect a given infant may be unanswerable. Here, a third factor that complicates research on the direct effects of substance abuse comes into play, namely, that maternal substance exposure may be associated with other important factors in fetal development

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that potentiate direct effects. For instance, maternal alcohol abuse during pregnancy is strongly associated with poor nutritional status, and there is good evidence that it is the combination of alcohol exposure and a poor nutritional environment that most influences the developing brain (Guerrini, Thomson, & Gurling, 2007). Other factors such as maternal age, chronic alcohol use, and higher parity may also play a role in increasing the likelihood that a given fetus’s exposure will lead to full-blown fetal alcohol syndrome (Niccols, 2007). Cocaine’s effects may also be potentiated by poor maternal nutrition, and inadequate weight gain during pregnancy is common among cocaine abusers (Shankaran et al., 2004). Here again, the limits of research on direct effects is apparent. Because cocaine use also is associated not only with poor weight gain, but also with use of other drugs and/or alcohol, documenting the direct effects of cocaine alone is quite difficult (Shankaran et al., 2007). There is much we don’t know about the effects of alcohol and cocaine on the developing fetus. Still, the clinician should be familiar with diagnosing fetal alcohol syndrome and should be aware of limited though important longitudinal data on prenatal cocaine exposure.

Alcohol Effects The best available data confirm that fetal alcohol exposure is among the most common preventable causes of developmental disorders in the United States and that public health interventions to influence alcohol intake by women of childbearing age (and their partners) are a worthy investment (Floyd, O’Connor, Bertrand, & Sokol, 2006). Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), the neurodevelopmental syndrome characterized by physical stigmata, cognitive deficits, and impaired pre- and postnatal growth has been described for decades (Calhoun & Warren, 2007). Nevertheless, only recently have uniform diagnostic criteria for FAS been developed (Floyd, O’Connor, Sokol, Bertrand, & Cordero, 2005). Part of the struggle to characterize FAS involves the fact that individual infants may be more or less affected. Various terms, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), are used to describe the large number of children (a majority of those exposed) who are affected but do not meet


criteria for “classic” fetal alcohol syndrome (Niccols, 2007). For the infant mental health clinician, recognizing the behavioral and developmental stigmata of alcohol exposure is a key to shaping interventions. Recent reviews suggest that even children who are at the more affected end of the FAS spectrum have developmental consequences that are not captured simply by reductions in IQ. It is true that verbal and nonverbal intelligence are often affected in alcohol-­exposed individuals (Kodituwakku, 2007). Nevertheless, IQ tests alone give an incomplete picture of alcohol-­related deficits. Three functional deficits—­reductions in processing speed, deficits in working memory, and inattentiveness—have been argued to be central in affected children (Kodituwakku, 2007; Niccols, 2007). Deficits are more readily apparent in alcohol-­exposed versus comparison children as task complexity increases, and this is true in domains of function as disparate as visual processing and language use (Kodituwakku, 2007). Not surprisingly, alcohol exposure is also linked to changes in social behavior in infancy. Early impairments in state regulation give way to difficulty reading social cues such that, as a group, preschoolers with FAS have difficulty differentiating familiar from unfamiliar caregivers and can appear excessively friendly or socially indiscriminant (Kelly, Day, & Streissguth, 2000). As they age, affected children can develop severe problems with adaptive functioning. Many meet criteria for attention-­deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by the preschool years, and disruptive behavior often further complicates early learning deficits (Streissguth et al., 2004; Whaley, O’Connor, & Gunderson, 2001).

Cocaine Effects Compared to alcohol exposure, data on cocaine exposure and developmental functioning over time is sparse. The strongest link in the literature is one that documents an association of maternal cocaine use during pregnancy and birth outcomes such as preterm delivery, low birthweight, and transient neurobehavioral problems (Shankaran et al., 2007). The long-term implications of these birth outcomes, however, are not well documented, and cocaine’s role in more severe



birth defects has not been established. Still, data from a few longitudinal, controlled studies initiated during the upswing in cocaine use in the United States in the early 1990s converge to suggest that prenatal cocaine exposure is consistently associated with mild attentional deficits and decreased emotional expressiveness over time, even when controlling for confounding factors (Frank, Augustyn, Knight, Pell, & Zuckerman, 2001). On one hand, as noted in Lester et al. (2002), the costs of addressing even small learning-­related deficits in a large number of children exposed to cocaine prenatally are impressive. On the other hand, the deficits associated with cocaine exposure are neither common enough nor severe enough to suggest that even a minority of cocaine-­exposed infants would be predictably affected. Instead, the same longitudinal data suggest that the relative impact of factors affecting the infant’s postnatal environment must also be considered. Although calls for considering prenatal drug exposure to be a reliable marker for social risk are longstanding (cf. Conners et al., 2003; Tronick & Beeghly, 1999), recent research suggests that addiction is a complex biosocial problem with genetic underpinnings. For the infant mental health clinician, emerging research on behavioral phenotypes associated with parental substance abuse can guide assessment and inform intervention.

PREDICTORS OF PARENTAL SUBSTANCE ABUSE Predicting which parents will struggle with drug dependence (and which infants will therefore be affected) is becoming possible. Twin and other genetically informed studies are especially helpful in identifying traits associated with substance abuse and estimating the degree to which those traits are heritable (Kendler, Myers, & Prescott, 2007). For example, the link between early impulsivity and later substance abuse has now been demonstrated, using longitudinal studies of at-risk groups (e.g., children of substance abusers). Verdejo-García, Lawrence, and Clark (2008) summarized this line of research as follows: “These studies have elegantly demonstrated that (1) children of

SUD [substance use disordered] parents have elevated impulsivity before drug exposure and (2) impulsivity indices are strong and reliable predictors of later drug initiation and drug and alcohol problems” (p. 791). In effect, impulsivity is a strong predictor of substance abuse and dependence, and it turns out that the relationship between preexisting impulsivity and substance abuse holds for different substances including cocaine and alcohol. Similar research on novelty seeking (a trait that is related to impulsivity) is consistent: Novelty seeking is linked to conduct problems, including substance abuse (Hiroi & Agatsuma, 2005). Research in this area has not stopped at identifying links between traits and later substance abuse. Instead, the search for the genes and gene products that potentiate drug use is proceeding at a rapid pace (van den Bree, 2005). However, to date, longitudinal studies that consistently identify gene products associated with substance abuse are lacking. Still, genetically informed research is illuminating. For instance, a longitudinal study investigating predictors of early alcohol use among maltreated children and a matched comparison group revealed a strong link between childhood maltreatment and early alcohol use (Kaufman et al., 2007). A clearer picture of early alcohol use, however, came when genetic and environmental factors were considered together. Children with a particular serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR) were at increased risk for early alcohol use, and there was an interaction between having the short-­allele (s-­allele) of this gene and maltreatment. Children who experienced maltreatment and also were born with the s-­allele of the serotonin transporter gene were at greatest risk to initiate alcohol use early in life. The severity of maltreatment experiences, the existence of early psychopathology, and poor mother–child relations also predicted early alcohol use (Kaufman et al., 2007). This study, and others like it, emphasizes that genetic factors are important in determining how individuals respond to environmental triggers. Identifying which neurotransmitters are key in the reward pathways that make individuals susceptible to drug use holds promise for new and more effective interventions (Gass & Olive, 2008). For the infant mental health clinician, the promise of interventions to treat substance

10. Parental Substance Abuse

abuse is only one piece of a larger puzzle. What is to be done, for instance, with the impulsive caregiver, whose unpredictability impacts the relationship with their infant? How can impulsivity be assessed in the clinical setting and what is the impact of this trait on a given parent–­infant relationship? To date, there are limited data to guide clinicians in dealing with the caregiver who is both impulsive and substance abusing. Nevertheless, recent data suggest that tracking caregiver impulsivity in interactions is important. Chen and Johnston (2007), for instance, found that mothers’ inattention (a trait strongly linked to impulsivity) was associated with inconsistent discipline of, and less involvement with, their 4- to 8-year-old children. Furthermore, the same study revealed that maternal impulsivity was negatively associated with reports of positive discipline. These relationships held even when child behavior, maternal depressive symptoms, and sociodemographic factors were controlled for. The findings from this study dovetail with others showing that, for instance, fathers with ADHD are more critical and negative regarding their children’s symptoms (Arnold, O’Leary, & Edwards, 1997), and mothers with ADHD monitored their children with ADHD less and were less consistent with these children than were mothers who did not meet criteria for ADHD (Murray & Johnston, 2006). Caregiver impulsivity, an issue of particular relevance for substance-­abusing mothers, is critical for clinicians to track. There is evidence that, for instance, cocaine-­abusing mothers tend to be disruptive and intrusive when observed interacting with their infants in the first year of life (Burns, Chethik, Burns, & Clark, 1997; Mayes et al., 1997). Though there is some inconsistency in studies of drug-using mothers and their offspring, most investigations have found that maternal substance abuse is a good marker for problematic interactive behavior. The majority of studies have considered dyadic interactions in the preschool years (Johnson, 2001; Mayes & Truman, 2002). Though few longitudinal, controlled studies exist, maternal intrusiveness and hostility among cocaine-­abusing mothers of 3-year olds has been documented to be higher than that evident among matched non-drug-using mothers followed over time (Johnson et al.,


2002). Furthermore, caregiver intrusiveness has been linked to disorganized attachment in prenatally drug-­exposed toddlers (Swanson, Beckwith, & Howard, 2000). It has even been suggested that the combined evidence from neuroimaging and neurobiological studies is revealing how cocaine directly disrupts neuroregulatory systems important in driving parent responsiveness (Swain, Lorberbaum, Kose, & Strathearn, 2007). The first important contribution of genetic studies for the clinician is that they help reframe the “impossible” substance-­abusing client as a person who inherited a set of behavioral traits (e.g., impulsivity) that made it far more likely that he or she would fall victim to substance abuse. Interventions for substance-­abusing parents have too often emphasized confrontation and even blaming (Miller & Rollnick, 2002). The inheritance of, for example, a short allele of a transporter gene is not a choice. Although viewing substance-­abusing caregivers as helpless victims is equally unhelpful, blaming them is not justifiable in light the evolving science of how one becomes a substance abuser. The second important contribution of studies of genetic-based risk factors is to identify traits that affect the interactive dance between caregiver and infant and are likely to be more common in substance-­abusing caregivers. Here is where caregiver impulsivity, for instance, has its own direct effects on the infant. Even subtle shifts in interactive behavior—­shifts known to be associated with both cocaine and alcohol abuse—can have significant developmental consequences over time (Tronick, Weinberg, Seifer, et al., 2005). Using observational procedures in assessing drug-­affected dyads, including the Still-Face Procedure for infants and structured interactive procedures for toddlers and preschoolers, is essential (see Miron, Lewis, & Zeanah, Chapter 15, this volume). Learning to recognize when caregivers fail to read their infants’ cues is critical. Tracking inconsistency and intrusiveness, hallmarks of caregivers who are impulsive and substance using, must be a focus of assessment when caregiver substance abuse is in the differential. For substance-­abusing caregivers, both guilt and shame are often important factors influencing their behavior. It is not unusual for substance-­abusing caregivers to report



“making up” for neglecting their infants during periods of active substance use by overstimulating their infants when not using as actively. Such “on again, off again” patterns may reveal themselves through narrative interview. With substance-­abusing caregivers, narrative interviews are an essential complement to direct observation of parent–­infant interchange (see Oppenheim & Koren-Karie, Chapter 16, this volume). It is also important to remember that substance abuse is known to be a marker for broader social risk conditions (Hans, 1999; Liu et al., 2003). The clinician must look for specific traits linked to parenting deficiencies known to affect substance abusers while also assessing the broader social context of the infant.

SUBSTANCE ABUSE: MARKER FOR SOCIAL RISK Recently, the transaction between the individual and his or her environment has been accepted as being a driving force in determining developmental outcomes (Sameroff & Mackenzie, 2003). Put another way, infants both act upon their social environment and are acted upon by that environment. In the context, for instance, of maternal substance abuse, the data already reviewed in this chapter suggest that infants may be affected directly by alcohol or cocaine while also having a primary caregiver who is atrisk for interactive difficulties. As the infant develops, for example, the caregiver’s impulsiveness may pervade the infant’s social experience and lead to difficulties in early emotion regulation. Furthermore, these infants may have been directly affected by prenatal alcohol exposure and also inherited the tendency toward impulsivity. It is when such early risk is compounded by postnatal environmental factors known to be associated with substance abuse that infant development is most severely affected. A recent birth cohort study from the United States illustrates how risk conditions aggregate and how they may affect the infant’s development (Whitaker, Orzol, & Kahn, 2006). After the majority of more than 4,200 mothers of infants from 18 U.S. cities were interviewed 3 years into the study, the relationship between child behavior (as

reported by mothers) and maternal mental health, substance use and domestic violence was estimated. Reports of child aggression, anxiety/depression, and inattention/hyperactivity at age 3 were related in a stepwise fashion to the number of risk conditions (maternal mental health, substance use, and/ or domestic violence) reported at age 1, even when controlling for a variety of sociodemographic factors (e.g., income, ethnicity, maternal age, maternal education, birthweight) and for paternal mental health and substance use. As with other studies (Sameroff, Seifer, Barocas, Zax, & Greenspan, 1987), particular maternal risk conditions early in a child’s life—in this case, including maternal substance use—were no more predictive of child behavior at later ages than other risk conditions. Rather, it was the cumulative occurrence of risk factors that was most predictive of early behavioral difficulties. For instance, child symptoms above the cutoff in the anxious/depressed domain were evident in 9%, 14%, 16%, and 27% of the sample when zero, one, two, or three maternal risk conditions were present, respectively. The clustering of risk conditions is common when maternal substance abuse is present. For instance, substance abuse during pregnancy and maternal depression often co-occur (Chandler & McCaul, 2003). Furthermore, there are associations between maternal substance abuse and family and neighborhood violence (Ondersma, Delaney-Black, Covington, Nordstrom, & Sokol, 2006). In fact, with the possible exception of direct toxic effects from alcohol, the available data suggest that it is the co-­occurrence of family risk in the presence of maternal substance abuse that accounts for most of the negative developmental effects associated with the substance abuse (Shankaran et al., 2007). For the clinician, it is essential to identify which co-­occurring risk conditions are impacting families in which caregiver substance abuse is an issue. Unfortunately, longitudinal studies suggest that maternal substance abuse at birth is a potent predictor of child protective services involvement in the preschool years (Street, Whitlingum, Gibson, Cairns, & Ellis, 2008), underscoring the need to engage with mothers who use substances and mitigate risks when possible. Despite the challenges that maternal substance abuse presents to the clinician,

10. Parental Substance Abuse

interventions hold great promise. Having an infant to care for can be a great motivator for substance-­abusing caregivers. In fact, being pregnant or having a dependent child is associated with retention in residential drug treatment programs particularly when the program has high percentages of other pregnant or parenting women enrolled (Grella, Joshi, & Hser, 2000). Retention in residential programs, in turn, is associated with higher rates of treatment success, with more than two-­thirds of women who spent 6 months or more in residential treatment in a recent large cross-site study reporting abstinence 6–12 months after discharge (Greenfield et al., 2004). As model interventions such as the Circle of Security (Powell, Cooper, Hoffman, & Marvin, Chapter 28, this volume) are disseminated, effectively addressing mother–­infant interactions while mothers are engaged in treatment becomes possible. Such interventions are capable of improving early attachment security, which is a powerful protective factor in infant development (Edwards, Eiden, & Leonard, 2006). Maternal substance abuse is a potent risk condition. Infant development can be affected through interrelated mechanisms; direct prenatal effects, genetic effects (that influence parent and infant both separately and together), and cumulative social risks are all clinically important. Only intensive intervention is likely to be effective. Fortunately, models for such intervention exist and hold great promise for mitigating risk. The rewards of working with substance-­abusing caregivers are great, and it is with such highrisk families that clinicians can have their greatest impact. References Arnold, E. H., O’Leary, S., & Edwards, G. H. (1997). Father involvement and self-­reported parenting of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 65, 337–342. Burns, K. A., Chethik, L., Burns, W. J., & Clark, R. (1997). The early relationship of drug abusing mothers and their infants: An assessment at eight to twelve months of age. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 53(3), 279–287. Calhoun, F., & Warren, K. (2007). Fetal alcohol syndrome: Historical perspectives. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 31(2), 168–711.


Chandler, G., & McCaul, M. E. (2003). Co­occurring psychiatric disorders in women with addictions. Obstetric and Gynecology Clinics of North America, 30(3), 469–481. Chen, M., & Johnston, C. (2007). Maternal inattention and impulsivity and parenting behaviors. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 36(3), 455–468. Chen, W. J., Maier, S. E., Parnell, S. E., &West, J. R. (2003). Alcohol and the developing brain: Neuroanatomical studies. Alcohol Research and Health, 27(2), 174–180. Conners, N. A., Bradley, R. H., Mansell, L. W., Liu, J. Y., Roberts, T. J., Burgdorf, K., et al. (2003). Children of mothers with serious substance abuse problems: An accumulation of risks. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 29(4), 743– 758. Edwards, E. P., Eiden, R. D., & Leonard, K. E. (2006). Behavior problems in 18- to 36-monthold children of alcoholic fathers: Secure mother–­ infant attachment as a protective factor. Development and Psychopathology, 18(2), 395–407. Floyd, R. L., O’Connor, M. J., Bertrand, J., & Sokol, R. (2006). Reducing adverse outcomes from prenatal alcohol exposure: A clinical plan of action. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 30(8), 1271–1275. Floyd, R. L., O’Connor, M. J., Sokol, R. J., ­B ertrand, J., & Cordero, J. F. (2005). Recognition and prevention of fetal alcohol syndrome. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 106(5 Pt. 1), 1059–1064. Frank, D. A., Augustyn, M., Knight, W. G., Pell, T., & Zuckerman, B. (2001). Growth, development, and behavior in early childhood following prenatal cocaine exposure. Journal of the American Medical Association, 285, 1613–1625. French, M. T., Rachal, J. V., & Hubbard, R. L. (1991). Conceptual framework for estimating the social cost of drug abuse. Journal of Health and Social Policy, 2(3), 1–22. Gass, J. T., & Olive, M. F. (2008). Glutamatergic substrates of drug addiction and alcoholism. Biochemistry and Pharmacology, 75(1), 218–265. Greenfield, L., Burgdorf, K., Chen, X., Porowski, A., Roberts, T., & Herrell, J. (2004). Effectiveness of long-term residential substance abuse treatment for women: Findings from three national studies. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 30(3), 537–550. Grella, C. E., Joshi, V., Hser, Y. I. (2000). Program variation in treatment outcomes among women in residential drug treatment. Evaluation Review, 24(4), 364–383. Guerrini, I., Thomson, A. D., & Gurling, H. D. (2007). The importance of alcohol misuse, malnutrition and genetic susceptibility on brain growth and plasticity. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 31(2), 212–220. Hans, S. L. (1999). Demographic and psychosocial characteristics of substance-­abusing pregnant women. Clinical Perinatology, 26(1), 55–74. Henderson, J., Gray, R., & Brocklehurst, P. (2007).



Systematic review of effects of low-­moderate prenatal alcohol exposure on pregnancy outcome. British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 114(3), 243–252. Hiroi, N., & Agatsuma, S. (2005). Genetic susceptibility to substance dependence. Molecular Psychiatry, 10(4), 336–344. Johnson, A. L., Morrow, C. E., Accornero, V. H., Xue, L., Anthony, J. C., & Bandstra, E. S. (2002). Maternal cocaine use: Estimated effects on mother–child play interactions in the preschool period. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 23(4), 191–202. Johnson, M. O. (2001). Mother–­infant interaction and maternal substance use/abuse: An integrative review of research literature in the 1990s. Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing, 8(1), 19–36. Kaufman, J., Yang, B. Z., Douglas-­Palumberi, H., Crouse-Artus, M., Lipschitz, D., Krystal, J. H., et al. (2007). Genetic and environmental predictors of early alcohol use. Biological Psychiatry, 61(11), 1228–1234. Kelly, S. J., Day, N., & Streissguth, A. P. (2000). Effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on social behavior in humans and animals. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 22, 143–149. Kendler, K. S., Myers, J., & Prescott, C. A. (2007). Specificity of genetic and environmental risk factors for symptoms of cannabis, cocaine, alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine dependence. Archives of General Psychiatry, 64(11), 1313–1320. Kodituwakku, P. W. (2007). Defining the behavioral phenotype in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders: A review. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 31(2), 192–201. Lester, B. M., Boukydis, C. F. Z., & Twomey, J. E. (2002). Maternal substance abuse and child outcome. In C. H. Zeanah, Jr. (Ed.), Handbook of infant mental health (2nd ed., pp. 161–175). New York: Guilford Press. Liu, J. Y., Roberts, T. J., Burgdorf, K., & Herrell, J. M. (2003). Children of mothers with serious substance abuse problems: An accumulation of risks. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 29(4), 743–758. Luthar, S. S., Suchman, N. E., & Altomare, M. (2007). Relational psychotherapy mothers’ group: A randomized clinical trial for substance abusing mothers. Development and Psychopathology, 19(1), 243–261. Martínez-Frías, M. L., Bermejo, E., Rodríguez­Pinilla, E., & Frías, J. L. (2004). Risk for congenital anomalies associated with different sporadic and daily doses of alcohol consumption during pregnancy: A case-­control study. Birth Defects Research Part A, Clinical and Molecular Teratology, 70(4), 194–200. Mayes, L. C., Feldman, R., Granger, R. H., Haynes, O. M., Bornstein, M. H., & Schottenfeld, R. (1997). The effects of polydrug use with and without cocaine on mother–­infant interaction at 3 and 6 months. Infant Behavior and Development, 20(4), 489–502.

Mayes, L. C., Grillon, C., Granger, R., & Schottenfeld, R. (1998). Regulation of arousal and attention in preschool children exposed to cocaine prenatally. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 21(846), 126–143. Mayes, L. C., & Truman, S. D. (2002). Substance abuse and parenting. In M Bornstein (Ed.), Handbook of parenting: Vol. 4. Social conditions and applied parenting (2nd ed., pp. 329–359). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2002). Motivational interviewing: Preparing people for change (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press. Murray, C., & Johnston, C. (2006). Parenting in adults with attention-­deficit-­hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 115, 52–61. Niccols, A. (2007). Fetal alcohol syndrome and the developing socio-­emotional brain. Brain and Cognition, 65(1), 135–142. Office of National Drug Control Policy. (2004). The economic costs of drug abuse in the United States, 1992–2002 (Publication No. 207303). Washington, DC: Executive Office of the President. Olney, J. W., Farber, N. B., Wozniak, D. F., Jevtovic­Todorovic, V., & Ikonomidou, C. (2000). Environmental agents that have the potential to trigger massive apoptotic neurodegeneration in the developing brain. Environmental Health Perspectives, 108(Suppl. 3), 383–388. Ondersma, S. J., Delaney-Black, V., Covington, C. Y., Nordstrom, B., & Sokol, R. J. (2006). The association between caregiver substance abuse and self-­reported violence exposure among young urban children. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 19(1), 107–118. Plessinger, M. A., & Woods, J. R., Jr. (1993). Maternal, placental, and fetal pathophysiology of cocaine exposure during pregnancy. Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, 36(2), 267–278. Ren, J. Q., Malanga, C. J., Tabit, E., & Kosofsky, B. E. (2004). Neuropathological consequences of prenatal cocaine exposure in the mouse. International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience, 22(5–6), 309–320. Sameroff, A. J., & Mackenzie, M. J. (2003). Research strategies for capturing transactional models of development: The limits of the possible. Development and Psychopathology, 15(3), 613–640. Sameroff, A. J., Seifer, R., Barocas, R., Zax, M., & Greenspan, S. (1987). Intelligence quotient scores of 4-year-old children: Social–­environmental risk factors. Pediatrics, 79(3), 343–350. Shankaran, S., Das, A., Bauer, C. R., Bada, H. S., Lester, B., Wright, L. L., et al. (2004). Association between patterns of maternal substance use and infant birth weight, length, and head circumference. Pediatrics, 114(2), E226–E234. Shankaran, S., Lester, B. M., Abhik, D, Bauer, C. R., Bada, H. S., Lagasse, L., et al. (2007). Impact of maternal substance use during pregnancy on childhood outcome. Seminars in Fetal and Neonatal Medicine, 12, 143–150.

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Street, K., Whitlingum, G., Gibson, P., Cairns, P., & Ellis, M. (2008). Is adequate parenting compatible with maternal drug use? A 5-year followup. Child: Care, Health, and Development, 34(2), 204–206. Streissguth, A. P., Bookstein, F. L., Barr, H. M., Sampson, P. D., O’Malley, K., & Young, J. K. (2004). Risk factors for adverse life outcomes for fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 25, 228–238. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies. (2008a). Results from the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings (NSDUH Series H-34, DHHS Publication No. SMA 084343). Rockville, MD: Author. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies. (2008b). The NSDUH Report: Alcohol Use among Pregnant Women and Recent Mothers: 2002 to 2007. Rockville, MD: Author. Swain, J. E., Lorberbaum, J. P., Kose, S., & Strathearn, L. (2007). Brain basis of early parent–­ infant interactions: Psychology, physiology, and in vivo functional neuroimaging studies. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 48(3–4), 262–287. Swanson, K., Beckwith, L., & Howard, J. (2000). Intrusive caregiving and quality of attachment in prenatally drug-­exposed toddlers and their primary caregivers. Attachment and Human Development, 2(2), 130–148. Terplan, M., & Lui, S. (2007). Psychosocial interventions for pregnant women in outpatient illicit drug treatment programs compared to other interventions. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 17(4), CD006037.


Tronick, E. Z., & Beeghly, M. (1999). Prenatal cocaine exposure, child development, and the compromising effects of cumulative risk. Clinical Perinatology, 26(1), 151–171. Tronick, E. Z., Messinger, D. S., Weinberg, M. K., Lester, B. M., Lagasse, L., Seifer, R., et al. (2005). Cocaine exposure is associated with subtle compromises of infants’ and mothers’ social–­emotional behavior and dyadic features of their interaction in the face-to-face still-face paradigm. Development and Psychopathology, 41(5), 711–722. van den Bree, M. B. (2005). Combining research approaches to advance our understanding of drug addiction. Current Psychiatry Reports, 7(2), 125–132. Verdejo-García, A., Lawrence, A. J., & Clark, L. (2008). Impulsivity as a vulnerability marker for substance-use disorders: Review of findings from high-risk research, problem gamblers and genetic association studies. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Review, 32(4), 777–810. Whaley, S. E., O’Connor, M. J., & Gunderson, B. (2001). Comparison of the adaptive functioning of children prenatally exposed to alcohol to a nonexposed clinical sample. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 25, 118–124. Whitaker, R. C., Orzol, S. M., & Kahn, R. S. (2006). Maternal mental health, substance use, and domestic violence in the year after delivery and subsequent behavior problems in children at age 3 years. Archives of General Psychiatry, 63(5), 551–560. Wu, L. T., Ringwalt, C. L., & Williams, C. E. (2003). Use of substance abuse treatment services by persons with mental health and substance use problems. Psychiatric Services, 54(3), 363–369.

C h a p t e r 11

Prematurity, Risk Factors, and Protective Factors Carole Müller Nix François Ansermet


reterm birth is a complex condition that has become a public health problem in industrialized countries. It has two major consequences. First, it puts the infant’s life and its outcome at stake, particularly for babies with very low birthweight (< 1500 grams) or very low gestational age (< 32 weeks). Second, it leads to intense emotional reactions in parents, including traumatic reactions, that have an impact on the infant and on the parent–­infant relationship. Remarkable advances in neonatology in the past 2 to 3 decades, with dramatic progress in resuscitation procedures, have resulted in increased survival rates of very preterm infants, leading to growing concern for their development and quality of life. For more than 20 years, a number of investigations aimed at understanding the multiple and overlapping factors that may be involved tried to clarify the risk and protective factors that contribute to quality of life in these vulnerable infants. More than ever, it seems essential to apply a multifaceted approach to this effort in order to effectively address the complex, interrelated biological, developmental, social, and emotional determinants. After review-

ing epidemiological data, this chapter will mainly address the emotional, environmental, and relational dimensions that can moderate or mediate the effects and outcome of prematurity. Indeed, as biological problems play a major role in preterm birth and infant outcome, so psychological and social factors are also important. An infant’s level of stress, as well as a parent’s subjective experience and abilities to adjust to a premature birth, critically influence the infant’s later competencies and development. In any case, these aspects have to be understood as key factors modulating the biological adversities of the child’s experiences. More precisely, this chapter explores the impact of a preterm birth on vulnerabilities, strengths, and adaptive reactions of both parents and infant, with particular attention to the traumatic dimension of this event. In the clinical work with these families, the parental psychic history, conscious or unconscious, plays a fundamental role in the unfolding of the parent–­preterm infant relationship, making this time for each family a singular one, each endowed with special meanings and unique outcomes. 180

11. Prematurity

DEFINITION AND CATEGORIZATION Preterm infants are infants born at less than 37 completed weeks of gestation. Preterm birth is classified as “late preterm birth” from 34 to 37 completed weeks of gestation, “very preterm birth” from 28 to 33 completed weeks of gestation, and “extremely preterm birth” before 28 weeks of gestation, with increasing neonatal mortality and morbidity with earlier births. Lack of systematic routine data collection for gestational age is one of the major challenges for accurately comparing the incidence of premature birth and infant outcomes among different studies. Incidence of premature birth is also based on birthweight, especially when accurate information on gestation is missing. The traditional subclassifications are: less than 2,500 grams for low birthweight (LBW), less than 1,500 grams for very low birthweight (VLBW); and less than 1,000 grams for extremely low birthweight (ELBW). Rates of LBW are more likely to be affected by a wide variation in genetic and nutritional factors in infants or by intrauterine growth restriction factors, and represent a less accurate estimate of the incidence of premature birth than do VLBW and ELBW rates (Fox, 2002).

CAUSES OF PRETERM BIRTH The multifactorial causes of prematurity include individual behavioral and psychosocial factors, environmental exposures, medical conditions, infertility treatments, and biological and genetic elements. Many of these factors occur in combination, particularly in parents who are socioeconomically disadvantaged or members of racial and ethnic minority groups (Behrman & Stith Butler, 2006). Limited social support, racial discrimination, low education, and negative life events are all considered as adverse factors (Dole et al., 2003). Present conditions of conception contribute to the increased rate of preterm birth, with a growing proportion of births among woman over 34, and multiple births following assisted reproductive therapy or ovulation induction. Changes in pregnancy follow-up procedures (early ultrasound dating, preterm induction, and ce-


sarean delivery) also play a role (Adashi et al., 2003). During pregnancy little is known about how to prevent a preterm birth. Treatment efforts are primarily focused on inhibiting contractions in women with preterm labor. This approach has not decreased the incidence of preterm birth but can delay delivery long enough to allow administration of antenatal steroids and the transfer of the pregnant mother to a hospital which can provide appropriate care for her and her fetus, reducing the rates of perinatal mortality and morbidity (Behrman & Stith Butler, 2006). From strong evidence in animal studies, recent research has explored antenatal maternal stress or anxiety as possibly linked to adverse birth outcome (Seckl & Meaney, 2006). Although this link has not been firmly established, Dole, among others has shown an increased risk of preterm birth related to pregnancy anxiety (Dole et al., 2003). Possible mechanisms include changes in maternal uterine blood flow and transplacental passage of cortisol from mother to fetus (Glover & O’Connor, 2005). Maternal antenatal depression also may have an incidence on preterm delivery, but studies are not consistent (Dayan et al., 2006; Dole et al., 2003).

INCIDENCE In 2005, the percentage of preterm births was 12.7% in the United States (MacDorman & Mathews, 2008). It has increased steadily since the mid-1980s in the United States, Canada, and Europe (Ananth, Joseph, Oyelese, Demissie, & Vintzileos, 2005; Lumley, 2003), especially for infants born at less than 28 weeks gestation. In 2004, 12.5% of births in the United States were preterm, with significant persistent racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities (Behrman & Stith Butler, 2006; Getahun, Ananth, Selvam, & Demissie, 2005). The rate for African American women was 17.8%, whereas it was 11.5% for European American women. In Europe, incidence of preterm birth is lower than in the U.S. In 2000, the incidence was between 5 to 8% (Blondel, Macfarlane, Gissler, Breart, & Zeitlin, 2006). One explanation is that since the 1930s most European countries have provided, to a much greater extent than has



the United States, broad healthcare coverage and social protection before and after delivery (Papiernik & Goffinet, 2004).

MORTALITY AND SURVIVAL In 2005, 68.6% of all infant deaths occurred to preterm infants, up from 65.6 % in 2000 (MacDorman & Mathews, 2008). Progress in perinatal and neonatal care have significantly improved the rates of survival for these infants (Ananth et al., 2005; Wheller, Baker, & Griffiths, 2006). In the United States the mortality rate has decreased for all preterm infants, between 1989 and 2001, from 3.3 to 2.4% (Ananth et al., 2005). Infants who formerly did not survive are now part of the extremely premature cohort. A review of ELBW infants, showed that with current methods of care, particularly the use of antenatal steroids, the limits of viability have been reached (Ancel, EPIPAGE Group, 2008). From 1995 to 2001, considering birthweight, the mortality rate declined by 15.4% for preterm babies born weighing between 750 and 999 grams, 9.7% for those born weighing between 500 and 749 grams but only by 5.4% for those less than 500 grams (Mathews, Menacker, & MacDorman, 2003). Nevertheless, preterm birth is still associated with a substantial excess of childhood mortality and morbidity. In industrialized countries, including the United States, it is now the most common cause of infant mortality, with 95% of those deaths occurring in infants who were born very preterm (< 32 weeks gestation) or with VLBW (< 1,500 grams), and two thirds of those deaths occur during the first 24 hours of life (Callaghan, MacDorman, Rasmussen, Qin, & Lackritz, 2006).

OUTCOMES OF PREMATURITY If the preterm infant survives, the concern becomes quality of life, and a number of studies have explored the preterm infant’s outcome in childhood and adolescence. From a pediatric and developmental perspective, preterm infants are at greater risk than full-term infants not only for mortality, but for a variety of health and developmen-

tal problems. The degree of infant maturity at time of birth is a major determinant of these risks (Escobar et al., 2006). Infants born after 32 weeks of gestation represent the greatest number of preterm infants, and experience more complications than infants born at term. Very preterm infants, VLBW infants, or preterm infants who suffer medical complications are the most at risk for long-term developmental, psychological, emotional, or behavioral problems. Moderating factors play an important role: higher maternal age, higher socioeconomic status, and education level are related to fewer impairments for infants (Behrman & Stith Butler, 2006). One possible explanation is that mothers are more inclined to cognitively and socially stimulate their preterm infant (Singer et al., 2003). Still, results from different studies are difficult to compare and sometimes yield contradictory findings, primarily due to methodological differences, in particular, considering preterm population either according to gestation (< 34 weeks, < 28 weeks) or to birthweight (< 1,500 grams; < 1,000 grams).

Neurodevelopmental Outcomes Most children born preterm do not suffer major neurodevelopmental impairments, like cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and severe neurosensory impairments (blindness, deafness), but that risk increases with decreased gestational age (Allen, 2008). Since 2000, furthermore, a decrease in the rates of cerebral palsy and overall neurosensory impairments has been found (Robertson, Watt, & Yasui, 2007; Wilson-­Costello et al., 2007). In the early 2000s, that rate was around 5% of cerebral palsy in survivors of less than 1 kg birthweight infants (Hack & Costello, 2008). This has been associated with changes in practice including cesarean section delivery, increased use of antenatal steroid therapy, and a decrease in postnatal dexamethasone use. Nevertheless, many children born preterm demonstrate more subtle neurodevelopmental disorders, as has become apparent in recent studies. They include language disorders, learning disabilities, attention-­deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), minor motor dysfunction or developmental coordination disorders and/or sensorimotor

11. Prematurity

problems, behavioral problems, and emotional difficulties that lead to functional impairments, cognitive impairments, academic difficulties (reading and spelling for example), social–­emotional problems (e.g., poor self-­esteem and peer relationships), and problems at home (Allen, 2008; Behrman & Stith Butler, 2006; Bhutta, Cleves, Casey, Cradock, & Anand, 2002; Hall et al., 2008; Salt & Redshaw, 2006). Even for children who were not born very prematurely these difficulties can be important. A study found that for children born at 30–34 weeks gestation, cognitive impairment was the most common disability (Marret et al., 2007). Measures of brain structure and function are predictive of neurodevelopmental outcomes, and recent studies examine children with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), as well as neonatal ultrasound (Behrman & Stith Butler, 2006). If improvements in perinatal care have led to a reduction in the major destructive parenchymal brain lesions (such as cystic periventricular leucomalacia and haemorrhagic parenchymal infarction), with abnormal motor developmental and cerebral palsy, it is hoped now that MRI information will help to identify neonates with disturbances to brain growth and function underlying developmental impairments. Measurements of the size, volumes, and growth rates of regions of the brain, such as the corpus callosum, ventricular system, cortex, deep grey matter, and cerebellum, are altered following preterm birth (Cheong et al., 2008; Inder, Warfield, Wang, Huppi, & Volpe, 2005). Application of advanced MRI and processing techniques in the neonatal period and later, let subtle alterations in brain development become apparent, in particular microstructural abnormalities of cerebral white matter (Boardman & Dyet, 2007; Counsell et al., 2008; Nagy et al., 2003). The exact relation between these findings and the clinical situations are still unclear (Hart, Whitby, Griffiths, & Smith, 2008).

Emotional and Behavioral Outcomes Preterm infants are also at risk of developing behavioral and emotional problems during infancy, childhood, and adolescence. At 6 months of age, they have been described as more stressed, with less approach behavior and more problems with self-­regulation


(Wolf et al., 2002); in early childhood (0–4 years old), more difficult, with less adaptability, activity, attention, and persistence than full-term infants (Chapieski & Evankovich, 1997; Tu et al., 2007) and during later childhood (5–11 years), with more behavioral and attention problems (boys more than girls) (Bhutta et al., 2002; Dahl et al., 2006), less adaptability, and fewer leadership and social skills (Anderson & Doyle, 2003; Chapieski & Evankovich, 1997). Symptoms of attention-­deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are reported to occur two to six times more frequently in these children than in full-term children (Anderson & Doyle, 2003; Bhutta et al., 2002; Foulder-­Hughes & Cooke, 2003), and prevalence at adolescence varies between 13 and 23% (Botting, Powls, Cooke, & Marlow, 1997; Elgen, Sommerfelt, & Markestad, 2002; Stjernqvist & Svenningsen, 1999). These rates are higher among ELBW or lowest gestationalage infants. In general, outcome data are sparse and often contradictory for preterm adolescents, relying mainly on adolescent, parent, or teacher self-­report questionnaires. Studies show clear differences between adolescents’ perceptions of themselves and their parents’ or teachers’ perceptions. Intriguingly, preterm-born adolescents report having less problems than full-term adolescents. On the contrary, their parents and teachers report more social, depressive, and ADHD-related problems and describe less social and school competences in these children (Dahl et al., 2006). Furthermore, preterm adolescents perceived their quality of life (i.e., well-being, happiness, and satisfaction) as similar to that of their full-term adolescent counterparts. They reported no greater number of health problems or lower self-­esteem (Indredavik, Vik, Heyerdahl, Romunstad, & Brubakk, 2005), but their parents reported reduced quality of life for their adolescents (Dinesen & Greisen, 2001). Patton and colleagues showed an association between prematurity and a substantially high rate of depressive disorder in late adolescence (Patton, Coffey, Carlin, Olsson, & Morley, 2004). In some studies preterm young adults (ages 20–23 years) report a comparable health and quality of life to a control group (Saigal et al., 2006). Delinquency, alcohol, or drug use was less frequent (Cooke, 2004; Hack et al.,



2002). One study of Walther and colleagues on a Dutch cohort gives a more pessimistic point of view, with 40% of ELBW young adults not being able to become fully independent individuals (Walther, den Ouden, & Verloove-­Vanhorick, 2000).

PRETERM INFANTS’ PAIN AND STRESS At birth, preterm babies have left the adaptive environment of the womb too early and are subject to intrusive medical procedures that although necessary, may inflict pain and stress and sometimes build a state of traumatic helplessness. The profound changes occurring in the infants’ brain organization at this time and their total dependency on caregivers leave them highly sensitive to environmental input. A number of specific circumstances in addition to medical care procedures, can induce pain and stress on infants and need to be acknowledged, such as respiratory distress or other medical complications, environmentally inappropriate sources of sensory stimulation in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) (e.g., excessive noise, overly bright lighting, and uncomfortable positioning in the incubator; Bullinger, 2005), and a certain separation from parents’ attention and affection during intensive care. There is evidence suggesting that even routine tactile procedures may be stressful for preterm infants (Holsti, Grunau, Whifield, Oberlander, & Lindh, 2006).

Assessment of Pain and Stress Contrary to what was believed in the past, premature infants are able to feel pain. By 24 weeks gestation, the nervous system elements required for the transmission of painful stimuli are functional. Accurate and reliable observation and assessment of infant pain, stress, and self-­regulation capacities are essential, and several validated instruments can be used for this purpose, helping to organize appropriate interventions. These include the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS; Brazelton & Nugent, 1995) and the Assessment of Preterm Infants’ Behavior (APIB; Als, Lester, Tronick, & Brazelton, 1982), both used with babies close

to discharge, and the Observation Sheet of the Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program (NIDCAP; Als, 1986; Als et al., 2004) used during hospitalization, the Neonatal Facial Coding System (NFCS; Grunau & Craig, 1987), and the Premature Infant Pain Profile PIPP, or Behavioral Indicators of Infant Pain (BIIP) Scale (Holsti, Grunau, Oberlander, & Osiovich, 2008; Stevens, Johnston, Petryshen, & Taddio, 1996), both of which give specific information on pain experience. Facial and bodily increased or decreased activity, increased heart rate, and decreased oxygen saturation are recognized as indicators of preterm infant pain and stress (Grunau et al., 2005; Holsti, Grunau, Oberlander, & Whitfield, 2004). Als’s conceptualization of the preterm newborn development (i.e., synactive theory; Als, 1986) allows clinicians to observe and assess not only infants’ signs of stress but also its autoregulatory abilities. Infants’ degree of stress is monitored specifically, with attention to disorganized motor behaviors, trouble in autonomic regulation, and unstable or unclear sleep–awake state regulation. Any adverse stimulation leads to stressful reactions in one or several of these subsystems and challenges the infant’s availability for social communication with possibly longterm developmental consequences (Anand & Scalzo, 2000). On the contrary, adaptive stimulations permit preterm infants to remain stable in these different dimensions of observation, available for social interaction and exploration of the environment in a beneficial way.

The Sensorimotor Approach The sensorimotor approach focuses on the needs of the infant and considers its sensorimotor development level. In particular, this approach tries to counteract the infant’s maladaptive, stereotypic movements and abnormal postures due to the dysstimulations lived by the infant in the NICU, while normal sensorimotor experiences are enhanced (Bellefeuille-Reid & Jakubek, 1989). Some studies explored sensory competencies of the infant (olfactives, tactiles in particular) in order to use them as help for the infant’s regulation toward stimulations, with the aim of controlling stressful reactions (Gou-

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bet, Rattaz, Pierrat, Bullinger, & Lequien, 2003; Pihet, Bullinger, Mellier, & Schaal, 1997). Other authors, using sensorimotor theories, have an interesting approach to the preterm baby’s stress. Their conceptualization states that preterm babies’ insufficiently organized nervous systems cannot alone respond healthily to sensory inputs. The support of infants’ sensorimotor and tonic balance allows them to organize themselves toward the stimuli of their environment. It is certainly one of the important aspects of the infant’s care, besides the relational aspect, to avoid subjecting the infant to longterm, stressful reactions that may accentuate the vulnerability of the preterm neonates to stress-­related complications, somatic as well as psychological. Infants who can actively engage the stimulation are not at risk of being helplessly overwhelmed by it or forced to defend against it (Bullinger, 2005). This engagement helps infants to construct an accurate, reliable, and coherent picture of their body and environment.

Infant Reactivity to Subsequent Stress Several studies have demonstrated that perinatal exposure to stressful events may influence infants’ later reactivity to subsequent stressors. Taddio, Katz, Iiersich, and Koren (1997) have shown for example, that nonanesthetized newborns who are circumcised demonstrate higher physiological and behavioral reactions to the subsequent stress of inoculation that occurs 2–4 months after birth. The mode of delivery has also been related to subsequent reactions to vaccination, with highest cortisol levels during inoculation in infants who were born by assisted delivery (forceps or vacuum) and lowest response in infants born by elective cesarean section (Taylor, Fisk, & Glover, 2000). Exposure to repetitive painful and stressful procedures may lead to altered neurobehavioral responses to subsequent stressful events, with decreased behavioral responses and increased physiological responses (Grunau et al., 2005; Grunau et al., 2007). A recent study showed altered basal cortisol reactions in extremely preterm infants between 3 and 18 months (corrected age), going from lower salivary cortisol at 3 months to higher basal cortisol at 8 and 18 months, compared with term infants. These


findings suggest a possible “resetting” of basal cortisol levels and long-term “programming” of the HPA axis (Grunau et al., 2007). Even mild subsequent stressors can involve an altered biobehavioral reactivity of the hypothalamic–­pituary–­adrenal axis (HPA) and cortisol level (Meaney, 2001). The persistent sensitization of the HPA axis to even mild stress in adulthood and its repercussions on emotional regulation (LeDoux, 1998; Perry, Pollard, Blakley, Baker, & Vigilante, 1995; Yehuda & LeDoux, 2007) may form the basis for the development of mood and anxiety disorders rendering an individual vulnerable to stress-­related psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) upon further stress exposure (Heim & Nemeroff, 1999). Seckl and Meaney (2006) stated that severe maternal stress during pregnancy can affect the infant’s HPA axis and be related to subsequent neuropsychiatric disorders, possibly including PTSD. Intriguingly, some of these effects appear to be “inherited” by a subsequent generation, itself unexposed to exogenous glucocorticoids, which imply epigenetic-­persistent markers. In spite of the importance of difficult early experiences, the future of the preterm infant cannot be regarded as one of a fully determined outcome. The neural plasticity of the brain must be considered—the potential reorganization of memory traces that constantly occur through mutative life experiences, changing the physiological impact as the meaning of primal experience (Ansermet & Magistretti, 2007).

PARENTS’ TRAUMATIZATION A Developmental Crisis in the Perinatal Period The period from pregnancy to about 2 years of age creates unique emotional experiences for most parents, that from a psychoanalytic perspective, can be considered as a developmental crisis even when the child is born at term and in good health. Indeed, there is potential reelaboration of parental conscious or unconscious past experiences, or of unresolved conflicts, particularly those linked to childhood experiences, and potential modifications of the identifications to parental



figures. New identifications with their own parents and their newborn child are accompanied by emotions and memories that can sometimes be destabilizing or problematic, as can be seen in parental postpartum psychopathology.

Parental Anxiety and Depression in the Case of a Premature Birth Premature birth is recognized as a stressful and emotionally demanding experience with long-term impact on both parents. Until now, most studies have explored parents’ experiences and responses in the form of persistent anxiety and/or depression (Miles, Holditch-Davis, Schwartz, & Scher, 2007; Padden & Glenn, 1997; Singer et al., 1999). Mothers reported more stress than fathers and poorer adjustment to the preterm birth (Hughes & McCollum, 1994; Jackson, Ternestedt, & Schollin, 2003). Stressors that can influence parents’ abilities to cope with the prematurity event include: the infant’s immaturity and severity of medical status (gestational age, birthweight, Apgar scores, length of hospitalization and postnatal complications); emotional risk factors in parents (separation from infant, alteration of parental role during hospitalization, difficulty in understanding the infant, anxiety about infant outcomes); and psychosocial dimensions (economic, personal, and family factors, pre- and perinatal experiences), and relationship with health care providers (DeMier et al., 2000; Dudek-­Schriber, 2004; Meyer et al., 1995; Miles, Burchinal, Holditch-Davis, Brunssen, & Wilson, 2002). Mothers and fathers have been found to display differences in the number and severity of perceived stressors (Hughes & McCollum, 1994), with mothers showing more sensitivity to stress. After discharge, mothers can suffer from depression and anxiety for months (Miles et al., 2007).

Parents’ Posttraumatic Reactions Only recently have a few studies explored parents’ experience from a trauma perspective, that is, considering the preterm birth as a traumatic event. Symptoms of posttraumatic reactions usually occur within 3 months of the traumatic event and can follow an acute or chronic course (American

Psychiatric Association, 2000). Studies indicate that parents of preterm infants report a high incidence of PTSD reactions, even up to a 1 year after the infant’s birth (DeMier et al., 2000; Holditch-Davis, Bartlett, Blickman, & Miles, 2003; Jotzo & Poets, 2005; Pierrehumbert, Nicole, Muller Nix, Forcada Guex, & Ansermet, 2003). Kersting’s prospective study found significantly higher PTSD symptoms, as well as depression and anxiety symptoms, in mothers of high-risk preterm infants, up to 14 months after giving birth (Kersting et al., 2004). In another study, preventive trauma intervention for mothers resulted in significantly less traumatic impact at discharge, although without intervention 77% of preterm mothers showed significant psychological trauma 1 month after birth and 49% 1 year later (Jotzo & Poets, 2005).

PARENTAL DISCOURSE Research with a qualitative approach provides a number of elements that help to understand the prematurity event. Besides data from standardized questionnaires, qualitative data, particularly from interviews with parents, are a meaningful complement to understanding parents’ subjective experience of prematurity (Borghini & Muller Nix, 2008; Jackson et al., 2003; Meyer, Zeanah, Boukydis, & Lester, 1993; Padden & Glenn, 1997).

Parental Experience of the Preterm Infant’s Birth Parental experience of preterm birth has been described from a clinical point of view in a substantial body of literature. In their discourse, parents speak often of the infant’s birth as a moment of shock, finding it impossible to think, and experiencing numbness, void, and confusion that prevents them from fully appreciating the situation (Muller Nix, Nicole, Forcada Guex, & Ansermet, 2001). These reasons may be understood as a defense against unbearable feelings related to the sudden interruption of the pregnancy. Everything moves too quickly and is unexpected. The child is barely born, but already at risk of death. Even when that risk seems to have passed, uncertainty concern-

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ing the baby’s outcome is constantly present (Ansermet, 1999). And this uncertainty is one of the most difficult feelings for parents to bare, sometimes becoming overwhelming during the weeks or months of hospitalization. The very difficult separation from the infant at birth, who needs immediate intensive care, is accompanied by intense fear for its survival. Meeting the infant in the NICU can be disturbing for parents, the infant being difficult to look at, too small, looking strange in color and proportion. Parents may feel that “it” doesn’t resemble a baby yet and looks very ill, thoughts that may lead to frightening images of death and disability. Lack of intimacy with the baby, so essential to the parent–­infant relationship, is recalled by parents as a major challenge. The immaturity of preterm babies, who are less able to respond to parents’ solicitations than full-term babies, limits the gratifying reciprocity of interactions. There is a risk of misunderstanding if parents don’t clearly comprehend the infant’s limited abilities and experience them instead as a personal affront. Parents are challenged to assert themselves as parents and to be recognized as such by their family and social environment (Minde, 2000). The uncertainty about the infant’s outcome can delay parents’ psychological investment in the baby (DeMier et al., 2000). Parents successively experience a variety of emotions that range from intense anxiety, depression, frustration and helplessness, to guilt and rage. Mothers’ guilt can be especially intense, with a feeling of having failed to carry the infant to term (Holditch-Davis, Miles, & Belyea, 2000). These various emotions are important, although painful, because they help parents to recognize the preterm baby’s reality as much as their own new parenthood (Pancer, Pratt, Hunsberger, & Gallant, 2000), and to find meaning in what is happening. Sometimes overwhelming, these emotions can keep parents at a distance from the child in an attempt to avoid them or, on the contrary, the feelings may push them to overstimulate the baby in a desperate search for a reassuring response from the infant. In the long run, parent emotional turmoil can jeopardize the establishment of a harmonious parent–­infant relationship (Levy-Shiff, Sharir, & Mogilner, 1989) and


can be the origin of mother–­infant attachment difficulties (Minde, Whitelaw, Brown, & Fitzhardinge, 1983).

Retraumatization, or the Aftermaths of the Preterm Birth Medical complications can greatly prolong the baby’s hospitalization and the uncertainty about his or her outcome. They are recognized as major stressors for parents and can constitute a series of retraumatizing moments. The infant’s transfer to another unit or hospital, or even the infant’s discharge represent similar stressful turning points (Zanardo, Freato, & Zacchello, 2003). Feelings of being abandoned or even rejected by the hospital staff when not yet secure in their parenthood is a challenge for many parents. Some parents respond to these difficult moments with exaggerated ambivalence toward the infant. Anxious and frustrated, they sometimes want to protect themselves from renewed traumatic fears. Each retraumatizing moment carries a risk of parental withdrawal of investment towards the infant, but also represents an opportunity for parents to invest more decisively in their infant. It is an opportunity to express their feelings, to overcome their exaggerated ambivalence, to find meaning in what is happening, and to affirm their desire to invest in the infant and their parenthood, despite the difficult circumstances. During their infant’s hospitalization, parents remain vulnerable to repeated retraumatization, necessitating ongoing emotional support (Kersting et al., 2004).

Supporting Parents’ Investment of Their Infant A major protective factor of the parent–­ infant relationship is active participation in the infant’s care, experience of sensory proximity and intimacy with the infant, and responsibility for the infant. Their confidence in their parenthood has to be reinforced repeatedly during hospitalization and evaluated before discharge. Insecure parents at discharge are more likely to have difficulties with their infant at home, which may lead to persistent parent–­infant relationship problems.



Parents’ Traumatic Experience, A Psychodynamic Approach From a psychoanalytic point of view preterm birth may be understood as a paradigmatic example of trauma in the perinatal period, with parents abruptly confronted with an event for which they were not able to prepare themselves (Freud, 1916–1917, 1920; Winnicott, 1989). Symptoms of traumatic stress are most often present at birth, but can also manifest during a secondary stressful event that brings forward parental fears for the infant’s survival, sometimes more intensely than at the infant’s birth. The hospitalization of the preterm baby may represent an ongoing trauma, with frequent retraumatization linked to the fluctuations in the baby’s medical condition. Furthermore, the cause of parents’ emotions can be related not only to the present situation but also to their preexisting psychic history. The parental traumatic experience can be conceptualized as a threefold process. The first phase is shock, including numbness, fears, difficulty thinking clearly (at birth). The second is the core of the psychic work of the trauma, the experience of a succession of emotions that need to be worked out over time, gaining meaning and loosing their intrusive quality (during hospitalization, retraumatizing moments). The third phase is resolution, when the trauma is sufficiently worked through so that difficult emotions no longer restrain parental feelings and affective investments in the infant.

PARENT–INFANT INTERACTIONS Parents’ Stress and Quality of Parent–­Infant Interactions Parents’ experiences and behavior, and infants’ characteristics, must be considered as transacting with one another over time, bringing a specific quality to each particular dyad of parent–­infant. In healthy at-term babies, maternal distress, in particular with depression symptoms, is recognized to be associated with less positive mother–­infant interactions. Few studies have explored the relationship between maternal psychological distress and the quality of parent–­preterm infant interaction (Feeley, Gottlieb, & Zelkovitz, 2005; Singer et al., 2003).

Parents’ thoughts and feelings greatly influence their behavior (Fraiberg, 1982). The infant himself with its characteristics elicit them, and parent and infant reciprocally affect one another over time in a way that involves complex feedback systems (Beckwith & Rodning, 1996; Goldberg & DiVitto, 1995). Early investigations pointed out that preterm infants are less alert, attentive, active, and responsive than full-term infants, and preterm infants’ mothers are more active, stimulating, intrusive, and at the same time, more distant in mother–child interactions, than full-term infants’ mothers (Barnard, Bee, & Hammond, 1984; Field, 1979; Minde, Perrotta, & Marton, 1985). These differences have persisted to 2 years of age in some studies (Minde, 2000). The stimulating attitude of preterm mothers has been the object of debate, viewed by some authors as an adaptive and compensatory response to the specific difficulties presented by the preterm infant’s immaturity (Goldberg & DiVitto, 1995), and seen by others as intrusive and controlling behavior, detrimental to the preterm infant’s outcome (Butcher, Kalverboer, Minderaa, Doormaal, & Wolde, 1993; Field, 1979). Further studies have described preterm infants and their mothers as relatively competent in their interactive behavior (Schermann-­Eizirik, Hagekull, Bohlin, Persson, & Sedin, 1997), especially after the first year of the infant’s life (Greenberg, Carmichael-Olson, & Crnic, 1992). These contrasting findings can be explained by the medical advances over the last 20 years, greater parental presence and involvement with the infant’s care, as well as increased emotional support given to the parents during the neonatal period (Als, 1986; Goldberg & DiVitto, 1995). However, smaller and more immature preterm infants are now surviving, with longer infant hospitalizations. Long-term interference with parent–­infant intimacy is still at risk (Keilty & Freund, 2005).

Dyadic Quality of Mother–­Infant Interaction and Infant’s Outcome Mother and infant quality of interaction at 6 and 18 months has been explored in a study in relation to the severity of prematurity as well as with maternal posttraumatic stress reaction (Muller Nix et al., 2004). Moth-

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ers of high-risk premature infants as well as mothers who were highly stressed in the perinatal period were found to be less sensitive and more controlling in dyadic play with their infant than full-term mothers and their infants were more compliant towards their mothers. Interestingly, maternal traumatic experience was the major factor influencing maternal as well as infant interactional characteristics, when both maternal posttraumatic reactions and infant severity of prematurity were taking into account. Dyadic quality of mother–­preterm infant interaction (matching maternal with their infant interactive behavior) has also been examined and two specific dyadic patterns were identified, a “cooperative” pattern (sensitive mother with a cooperative infant), and a “controlling” pattern (mother controlling with a compulsive–­compliant infant) (Forcada Guex, Pierrehumbert, Borghini, Moessinger, & Muller Nix, 2006). These contrasted dyadic patterns of interaction were found to have a significantly different impact child outcome (see next paragraph).

Parental Representations of Attachment and Parent–­Infant Interactions Maternal attachment representations of infants have been assessed using the Working Model of the Child Interview (WMCI; Zeanah & Benoit, 1995) and showed that at 18 months only 30% of mothers of preterm infants < 34 weeks of gestational age had secure attachment representations, vs. 57% for mothers of full-term infants (Borghini et al., 2006). Quality of maternal attachment representations was correlated with mothers’ posttraumatic stress reactions. Most often representations were “distorted representations” in mothers reporting high levels of stress, “disengaged representations” in mothers reporting low levels of stress, and “balanced representations” in full-term mothers. Interestingly, regarding dyadic patterns of interaction and maternal attachment representations, although “cooperative” dyadic patterns of interaction were found in fullterm dyads (68%) and in preterm dyads (28%) (Forcada Guex et al., 2006), maternal representations of attachment were very different in these two groups: full-term mothers showed mainly balanced representations, whereas preterm mothers displayed balanced and disengaged representations. Mothers of


“controlling” dyads showed mainly distorted representations.

PARENTAL STRESS AND INFANT OUTCOME Parents’ subjective experience has a crucial impact on infants’ experiences, development, and outcome (Goldberg & DiVitto, 1995; Korja et al., 2008; Pierrehumbert et al., 2003; Wijnroks, 1999). The quality of the early parent–­infant relationship is a critical factor affecting later infant competencies (Wijnroks, 1998). It represents an important mediating variable between perinatal risk factors and the infant’s developmental outcome (Magill-Evans & Harrison, 2001; Singer et al., 2003). Sensitive and responsive maternal interactional behavior has been related to better infant cognitive and social competencies (Beckwith & Rodning, 1996; Singer et al., 1999). Postpartum maternal depression has been acknowledged to have negative effects on cognitive, emotional, and behavioral development in the child. This suggests that maternal depression in the case of prematurity might have similar consequences. Singer and colleagues (2003) demonstrated that maternal distress following preterm birth was related to low frequency of cognitive growth of their infant at both 8 and 12 months. Parents’ posttraumatic reactions were found to be related to infant problems at 18 months (Pierrehumbert et al., 2003). Preterm infants of mothers, but not of fathers, with posttraumatic stress reactions presented more behavioral symptoms (particularly sleeping problems) at 18 months, than mothers of full-term infants. Although infant outcome was related to severity of prematurity and to maternal posttraumatic stress reactions, the latter was the mediating factor of infant outcome. This finding emphasizes the central role of parents’ emotional reactions in the infants’ subsequent development. Other studies have confirmed the importance of parental affective experience on infants’ outcome. Maternal stress has been pointed out as an important mediating factor between infant neonatal stress and its quality of focused attention at 8 months corrected age (Tu et al., 2007). Child development at 36 months has been found to be more closely related to maternal distress and



social support than to early physiological factors (Miceli et al., 2000). Parental stress in early infancy can represent a risk factor for later child behavioral problems (Kaaresen, Ronning, Ulvund, & Dahl, 2006). Considering parent–­infant pattern of interaction and infant outcome, one study showed that in dyads of a sensitive mother with a cooperative infant, the infant outcome is comparable to the one of full-term infants. On the contrary, in dyads of a controlling mother with a compulsive–­compliant infant, the infant outcome is significantly less positive, with more behavioral symptoms (particularly eating problems) and lower developmental social skills then for full-term infants (Forcada Guex et al., 2006). The former pattern appears to be a protective factor and the latter a risk factor, independently of perinatal risk factors and of the family’s socioeconomic background. These findings emphasizes the importance of therapeutic interventions in consultation–­ liaison work in the NICU aimed at parent–­ infant interactions and early psychotherapeutic consultations with parents when needed.

PARENTS–STAFF RELATIONSHIP Parents’ relationship with the hospital staff is of considerable importance and involves many challenges. Parents may experience mixed feelings of gratitude and ambivalence, of dependence and rivalry toward the staff. At first, most parents feel helpless in caring for their baby, but when the baby is less dependent on life support, they need to affirm their role as parents (Jackson et al., 2003). This transition can create tension, as some hospital staff members may unknowingly encourage parents’ dependency on them. After discharge, insecure parents often look for reassurance, sometimes from their pediatrician, but sometimes from the infant, which may complicate the child’s emotional development.

PARENTAL REPRESENTATIONS OF INFANT AFTER DISCHARGE Parents are usually relieved to have their infant at home. They often describe that

moment as a second birth of the infant. They can nevertheless still express excessive anxiety for the child. They may be highly concerned about the infant’s attainments and developmental milestone achievements. These concerns can in some cases prevent them from fully enjoying the relationship with their infant and discovering his or her personality. In some cases they can have difficulty describing their infants’ individual characteristics. Paradoxically, parents can express simultaneously serious concerns and idealized representations of their infant’s abilities. They sometimes express lack of confidence in their parenting abilities and feelings of rivalry toward other caretakers of the child. This underscores how important it is for pediatricians to be aware of these potential difficulties and to follow up with parents, since these problems are not always easily expressed by parents or easily recognized in parent–­infant relationships at first sight.

INTERVENTIONS A number of authors have aimed to better define parent and infant needs during hospitalization and have proposed intervention programs in order to promote early parent–­infant intimacy. Some are centered on the parents, others on the infant or on the parent–­infant relationship (Kaarresen et al., 2006). Zeanah and colleagues (1984) described three major approaches to help parents in the intensive care nursery: crisis intervention, supportive psychotherapy, and insight­oriented psychotherapy. Often these different approaches may be indicated at different points in the hospitalization. A psychoeducational support for example, has been found to effectively help parents and prevent posttraumatic stress reactions. Helping parents to partner in providing care to the infant in the NICU, enhancing parental feelings of self-­efficacy, and reducing the distress associated with the infant’s birth and hospitalization are all important interventions (Holditch-Davis et al., 2003). Nurses can help parents to voice their feelings in the context of a supportive and empowering environment. During hospitalization, attentive observa-

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tion of the baby can take place in the presence of parents and nurses in a beneficial way. Parents often have a traumatic representation of the infant, a compact image, fixed by fear for the infant’s survival or handicap. An observation of the infant during clustered care helps parents to discover the infant’s specific characteristics, to understand the infant’s behavior and limited interactional abilities, and to see his or her unique personality, all helping to reinforce their investment in the child (Borghini & Forcada Guex, 2004; Golse, 1999; Lebovici & Stoleru, 1994). Interventions centered on the infant’s needs and aimed at minimizing its distress are very important. They necessitate a precise attention to the infant environment, a control of its stimulating or dysstimulating quality, and promote individualized developmental care of the infant. An example is the Neonatal Individualized Developmental Assessment Care Program (NIDCAP; Als, 1986; Als et al., 2004). Supportive interventions are not always effective or sufficient for parents facing successive crisis in the course of prolonged hospitalization of their infant. A flexible psychotherapeutic intervention is an appropriate approach when parents are experiencing difficulties in relating to their infants, with the goal of diminishing parental suffering and promoting the growth and development of the parent–­infant relationship. Psychotherapy should always be accompanied by information, suggestions, or advice in order to help parents meet the infant’s specific needs. Insight-­oriented psychotherapy may be indicated when parents experience significant conflicts related to their own psychic history that manifest in difficult relationships with staff members or continued difficulties in their relationship with the infant (Zeanah, Canger, & Jones, 1984). This approach helps parents to be more aware of the past experiences that are interfering in the relationship with their infant. In general, early individualized familybased interventions during neonatal hospitalization and the transition to home, have been shown to reduce parental stress and depression, increase parental self­esteem, and  improve positive early parent–­ preterm ­infant interactions (Dudek-­Schriber, 2004).


The mental health consultant in the NICU serves as a liaison who helps to clarify parents’ experiences to the staff and the underlying meaning of parental defensive reactions, as well as assisting the staff in understanding and clarifying their own feelings and possible reactions toward the parents, with the aim of differentiating the position of parents and staff toward the baby, and helping the staff to support parent–­infant relationships.

CONCLUSIONS The preterm infant experience of early stress in critical phases of development may result in a persistent vulnerability and emotional reactivity to secondary stress later in life and it is therefore important to recognize infants’ signs of stress, as well as signs of competencies. Pursuing research on prematurity is of crucial public health importance as severe prematurity is an increasing phenomenon in several occidental countries. Parents’ emotional and affective experiences play a fundamental role in the quality of the parent–­preterm infant relationship and the infant’s outcome. The parental experience can be understood as a traumatic one, as shown in the clinical exploration and the research data. The infant mental health professional’s role is also crucial. Two aspects may be distinguished: liaison work with the hospital staff, and therapeutic work directly with parents and infants aimed at improving the parent–­infant relationship. Preterm birth is certainly accompanied by a number of risk factors that can revive unresolved psychic conflicts in parents that sometimes require specific therapeutic interventions. Even so, infants’ autoregulatory abilities and parents’ capacities to elaborate the traumatic conflicts must not be underestimated in their potential to effect dynamic transformation. The consequences of a preterm birth do not have to follow a causal evolution, with determined repetition and a logic that derives from risk factors. Potential reorganization of experiences through brain neural plasticity should open new frames of research (Ansermet & Magistretti, 2007). This is especially true if it is accompanied with appropriate supportive or therapeutic intervention.



Acknowledgments We would like to thank Margarita Forcada Guex and Elena Martinez for their helpful and thoughtful comments on this paper

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C h a p t e r 12

The Effects of Violent Experiences on Infants and Young Children Daniel S. Schechter Erica Willheim


n reviewing the literature over the past 10 years on the effects of violence on infant and early childhood development, we begin this chapter with a conclusion: There is no longer any question that experiences of violence and maltreatment adversely and enduringly alter neurobiological development, psychological and social functioning, and subsequent expectations of the environment (Kaufman, Plotsky, Nemeroff, & Charney, 2000). The questions that remain are to what degree and in what ways is early development affected by violent experience and maltreatment. In other words: •• Which effects follow from specific types of, and frequency of exposures to, events? •• What is the impact of an individual infant’s or child’s constitution? •• Is there a differential impact of adverse events depending on specific critical periods of development? •• What is the effect of the exposure in the context of specific relationships in which the meaning of the experience(s) is coconstructed? Answering these questions is crucial to the clinical assessment and effective treatment

of the sequelae of violent experiences during early childhood and subsequently. Following an overview of pertinent epidemiology regarding the scope of early childhood exposure to violence, we briefly discuss the nature of the trauma and known sequelae of violence exposure. Next we review historical, psychological, and neurobiological aspects of the following dimensions: individual differences and gene–­environment interactions, violence exposure in the context of critical developmental periods, and the relational context of violence exposure and related meaning making. Finally, we review what is now known and under study regarding interventions specifically targeted at interrupting or ameliorating the deleterious effects of early childhood exposure to violent trauma. Although we have organized this chapter into four broad dimensions (exposure, constitution, development, and attachment), it is important to state at the outset that, in reality, it is quite difficult to tease apart these dimensions. A helpful metaphor may be that of looking through a crystal. In examining the effects of violence on very young children, whichever side of the crystal you gaze into, you cannot help but see all other sides reflected back. 197



EPIDEMIOLOGY OF EXPOSURE TO VIOLENCE In many ways, the past decade in the United States has been an unfortunate naturalistic case study in the multiple modalities by which children may be exposed to violence. Children can be the victims of, or witnesses to, interpersonal, familial, community, and international violence. The World Trade Center attack in 2001 and the start of the Iraq war in 2003 literally brought home the impact of terrorism and war for this generation of American children. From the Columbine High School shootings of 1999 to the nursery school knife attack in western Belgium of 2009, the media has repeatedly sent a message to parents over the past decade that even the youngest children are not necessarily protected from lethal violence in school settings to which parents entrust their children’s safety. Additionally, we are increasingly cognizant of the degree to which children have become witnesses of actual violence through the media. We begin with the available data on national exposure rates, with particular attention to the experience of very young children. In 2005, approximately 3.6 million children were the subject of child protective services (CPS) investigations nationally. From these reports, the total estimated number of children determined to be victims of abuse or neglect was 899,000, a rate of 12.1 per 1,000 same-age children in the general population (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006). Overall, 63% of child maltreatment victims suffered neglect, 17% physical abuse, and 9% sexual abuse. Just over half of the victims (54.5%) were 7 years old or younger. The highest rate of victimization was found for the 0–3 group, with an incidence of 16.5 per 1,000, followed by 4- to 7-year-olds with 13.5 per 1,000. The types of maltreatment suffered by children under 3 years old were 73% neglect, 12% physical abuse, and 2% sexual abuse. Out of an estimated 1,460 child fatalities due to maltreatment, nearly 77% were children under 4 years of age. In comparison to the overall estimated rate of 1.96 deaths per 100,000 children, infant boys under the age of 1 had a fatality rate of 17.3, and infant girls under the age of 1 had a rate of 14.5 deaths. Nearly 80% of all maltreated children were abused by a parent.

The figures typically cited for child exposure to intimate partner violence have been 10–20% of children yearly, that is, between 3.3 and 17.8 million youth (Carlson, 2000). However, this estimation is problematic (Gelles, 1997; Osofsky, 2003) because it was originally derived from data that are now more than 20 years old (Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980) and only included homes with children between the ages of 3 and 17. We do know that for each year between 1993 and 2004, children under the age of 12 lived in households, an average of 40% of which (nearly 350,000) was the site of intimate partner violence (IPV; Catalano, 2006). A more recent study, using a nationally representative sample, estimated that approximately 15.5 million children were living in homes where domestic violence had occurred at least one time in the preceding year, with 7 million children likely exposed to more severe IPV (McDonald, Jouriles, Ramisetty­M ikler, Caetano, & Green, 2006). In order to examine not only the frequency with which children witness IPV but also their age and level of sensory exposure, Fantuzzo and Fusco (2007) worked with a large Northeastern county police department to collect exposure data. As assessed by the responding police officers, children were present for 43% of domestic violence episodes, 92% of which involved violence against the children’s mother. The authors report that 81% of the children present either heard and/or saw the event, and that 60% of these directly exposed children were younger than 6 years old. An earlier study in Rhode Island reported similar findings: Children were present at 44% of all domestic violence episodes, with 47% of child witnesses less than 6 years old (Gjelsvik, Verhoek-­Oftedahl, & Pearlman, 2003). The prevalence of child exposure to violence has been further highlighted by reports of the co-­occurrence of child maltreatment and IPV. In a national sample of 3,612 female caregivers of children in the CPS system but living at home, 44.8% of the sample reported lifetime physical violence perpetrated by an intimate partner, with 29.% reporting IPV in the preceding year alone (Hazen, Connelly, Kelleher, Landsverk, & Barthm, 2004). This finding is consistent with previous findings of a median co-­occurrence rate of 41% (Appel & Holden, 1998) and 30– 60% (Edleson, 1999).

12. The Effects of Violent Experiences

Definitions of community violence vary in their scope but generally refer to violence experienced or witnessed in proximity to homes, schools, and neighborhoods. Stein, Jaycox, Kataoka, Rhodes, and Vestal (2003) have compiled a comprehensive review of studies investigating child exposure to community violence, conducted between 1991 and 2002. Despite variations in community samples, definitions of exposure, and study methodologies, one conclusion emerged: Children living in low-­income, urban, and predominantly minority communities were repeatedly found to experience extraordinarily high rates of community violence exposure. Only a handful of studies has investigated prevalence rates for mothers and preschoolers (ages 3–5) living in high-risk urban centers. In Washington, DC, using an innovative child interview technique, parents and children separately reported on rates of child exposure to violence (Shahinfar, Fox, & Leavitt, 2000). Overall, 66.5% of parents and 78.1% of children reported that the child had witnessed, or been the victim of, at least one violent incident. In Boston, Linares et al. (2001) asked mothers to report on their own degree of exposure and that of their child, excluding IPV. They found that 81% of mothers and 42% of children witnessed one event, 21% of children witnessed three or more events, and 12% of children witnessed eight or more events. In Los Angeles, 71% of mothers reported witnessing violence, and 65% reported victimization. The mean number of maternal and child community violence exposures was 10.69 and 10.09, respectively (Farver, Xu, Eppe, Fernandez, & Schwartz, 2005). There are no reliable estimates of how many very young children are affected by terrorism and war around the world (Costello, Erkanli, Fairbank, & Angold, 2002), but the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF, 2004) estimates that 300 million children worldwide are subject to violence, exploitation, and abuse. Approximately 250,000 are currently serving as child soldiers, 2 million children are sexually exploited, 20 million children have been displaced from their homes, and since 1990, 1.6 million children have died in armed conflicts. The United States is home to increasing numbers of child refugees who have been exposed to war and terrorism and who suffer relatively


high rates of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD; Allwood, Bell-Dolan, & Hussain, 2002). The media and Internet are additional forms of violence exposure that are of increasing interest and importance. Inability to distinguish media presentations from real and/or personal experience at an early age also raises questions in terms of the complexity of traumatic exposure for very young children. That violent media has behavioral effects on preschool-age children has been known for many years (Stein & Friedrich, 1972). Recent studies of families with young children have demonstrated an association between familial preference for viewing violent media and history of actual and/or current traumatization in the primary caregiver who allows and/or promotes the violent media viewing (Schechter, 2006).

NATURE OF THE EXPOSURE Exposure to a traumatic event is generally defined in terms of proximity to the event, degree of injury or exposure to injury and/ or loss of life, as well as perceived threat of injury and/or loss of life. Since infants and very young children have a limited capacity to judge threat and rely on their caregivers for survival, exposure becomes a more complex issue for this age group. However, the effects of violent trauma and maltreatment on psychopathology in infants and young children are increasingly well documented. A common finding, regardless of age group, is the association between violent trauma and risk for a broad range of psychiatric conditions covering domains of functioning as varied as sleeping, feeding, elimination, anxiety, mood, somatization, behavior, attentional regulation, language development, dissociative processes, self­endangering behaviors, as well as numerous autoimmune and other medical conditions (Driessen, Schroeder, Widmann, von Schonfeld, & Schneider, 2006; Dube et al., 2001; Seng, Graham-­B ermann, Clark, McCarthy, & Ronis, 2005). Although child maltreatment may vary in terms of type, severity, developmental stage, perpetrator, and chronicity, the deleterious effects have been conclusively established (Cicchetti & Lynch, 1995). For example, maltreated children generally exhibit greater internalizing



and externalizing problems, lower levels of ego resiliency, and greater ego undercontrol. Abuse in infancy and toddlerhood negatively impacts later middle childhood adjustment, and children with histories of both sexual and physical abuse demonstrate the lowest levels of ego resiliency and highest rates of ego undercontrol (Manly, Kim, Rogosch, & Cicchetti, 2001). When the caregivers on whom the infant or young child is dependent are themselves the source of threat, such as in the instances of maltreatment and family violence, profound effects are noted in virtually every area of subsequent development, including fundamental disturbances of relatedness (Cicchetti, Toth, Bush, & Gillespie, 1988). Witnessing domestic violence in childhood is linked to adult aggression in intimate relationships (Ehrensaft et al., 2003). In a meta-­analysis of over 100 studies on child witnesses to domestic violence, Kitzmann, Gaylord, Holt, and Kenny (2003) concluded that within childhood, there is a significant association between exposure and behavioral, social, and academic problems. Interestingly, the outcomes for children who witness IPV are significantly different from nonwitnesses, but not significantly different from those of physically abused children. Preschool witnesses have been shown to suffer disturbances in multiple domains, with severe internalizing and externalizing symptoms (Lieberman, Van Horn, & Ozer, 2005). Levendosky, Leahy, Bogat, Davidson, and von Eye (2006) have shown that infants exhibit trauma symptoms and externalizing behaviors (aggression, negative emotional reactivity, activity level) in cases where severe violence has occurred and their mothers suffered trauma. Consistent with Scheeringa and Zeanah’s model of relational PTSD (2001), maternal functioning can serve as a mediator and/or moderator between current domestic violence and infant externalizing behaviors, with maternal regulation either inhibiting or promoting infant regulation and resilience. Community violence has been found to negatively impact cognitive performance as well as peer relations in preschoolers (Farver, Natera, & Frosch, 1999). The effects of community violence on internalizing and externalizing behaviors in young children similarly appear to be mediated or buffered by maternal psychological functioning (Bai-

ley, Hannigan, Delaney-Black, Covington, & Sokol, 2006; Margolin & Gordis, 2000). Terrorism and war erode the safety and predictability of a young child’s world. Critical variables are the degree of exposure, amount of family support during and after, impact on primary caregivers, degree of life disruption, and degree of social chaos. In studies of direct exposure, a dose–­response effect is found, with greater exposure resulting in more severe risk of PTSD (Pine, Costello, & Masten, 2005). For preschoolers living in war zones, higher levels of traumatic exposure are related to severity of behavioral and emotional symptoms (Thabet, Karim, & Vostanis, 2006). Indirect exposure appears to have a more deleterious effect on children with prior trauma but does not necessarily result in PTSD for most children (Pfefferbaum et al., 2003). For young children indirect exposure does, however, create an atmosphere and perception of danger that can induce separation anxiety, new fears, and avoidant behaviors (Pynoos, Schreiber, Steinberg, & Pfefferbaum, 2005). A study via maternal report on 1- to 4-year-old children in Israel found a differential pattern of associations between types of trauma exposure: direct exposure to terrorism, media exposure to terrorism, and other trauma (Wang et al., 2006). Direct exposure was significantly associated with an increased risk of externalizing and internalizing problems. Exposure to television coverage for a minimum of 5 minutes daily or more was associated with a greater risk of emotional reactivity and sleep problems. Oppositional behavior and other forms of externalizing and aggressive behavior were also noted. Non-­terrorism-­related trauma produced greater anxiety and other internalizing symptoms without notable externalizing symptoms. These traumatic events tended to be nonviolent (e.g., car accidents, other accidents, dog bites, medical/surgical trauma). Among those young children who do develop PTSD, a substantial number also have comorbid psychopathology, including oppositional defiant disorder and other anxiety disorders (Scheeringa & Zeanah, 2008; Scheeringa, Zeanah, Myers, & Putnam, 2003). Yet, some traumatized preschool children develop no discernable psychopathology and may display subtler or subthreshold difficulties that defy presently used diagnos-

12. The Effects of Violent Experiences

tic categories. The nature of exposure, gene–­ environment interaction, developmental factors, and attachment relationships may steer the individual victim of violent trauma down multiple pathways of psychopathology without obvious PTSD. Despite low rates of concurrent childhood PTSD, the notion of resilience to mental disorder has significant limitations. In fact, the rates may be deceptively low in childhood and particularly in early childhood for several reasons. First, as Scheeringa has shown (Scheeringa, Wright, Hunt, & Zeanah, 2006) the symptoms required for the diagnosis of PTSD, as described in the DSM-IV, are not developmentally attuned to the capacities of most very young children (i.e., symptom criteria B, C, and D: reexperiencing, avoidance, and hyperarousal respectively). Second, a more challenging problem occurs when a very young child meets the DSM-IV traumatic event criterion (i.e., “Criterion A”) for the diagnosis of PTSD. The meaning of a given experience as “traumatic” is likely not understood as such by infants and very young children, even though anxiety is generated in response to the sense of traumatization by caregivers and/or others in the environment. This is to say that infants and toddlers do not often have the capacity to accurately appraise threat and the consequences of traumatic exposures, and so depend on their caregivers for this appraisal. Finally, the linking of PTSD symptoms temporally to the occurrence of a violent event is required for the diagnosis of PTSD. For many infants and preverbal children, this temporal link will not be possible to make. For example, a foster child may present with symptoms of full-blown PTSD but without any record of clear physical or sexual abuse. So, in such cases, one may infer PTSD or rule-out PTSD pending more information. And yet, even infants have the capacity to develop avoidance and hyperarousal to traumatic reminders, if not discernable reexperiencing symptoms (Kaplow, Saxe, Putnam, Pynoos, & Lieberman, 2006). Regardless of the age of the child, a discernable and enduring or frequently recurring change of behavior that is associated with impairment and/or distress, following an index event or coinciding with a prolonged exposure (i.e., to domestic violence or maltreatment), is the most likely sign of a need for evaluation of psychopathology, re-


gardless of whether the behaviors or symptoms fit neatly into any particular diagnostic category.

CONSTITUTIONAL DIFFERENCES IN INFANTS Threats to the infant’s survival, whether directly to his or her person or to his or her caregiving system, result in activation of the fight–­fl ight–freeze response associated with fear conditioning. Failure to extinguish the fear response and the psychobiological cost of that failure are thought to lead to posttraumatic psychopathology. Activation of the two principal stress-­reactivity mechanisms associated with fear conditioning are most often prompted by the limbic system, most prominently the amygdala, leading to activation of the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (i.e., increased heart rate) via quick-­acting noradrenergic emission, and the hypothalamic-­pituitary–­ adrenal axis via the slower-­acting central glucocorticoid secretion (i.e., leading to increased circulating cortisol, binding at central nervous system sites such as the hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex). Increased cortisol levels also result in an elevation of blood glucose, which sustains the organism during the fight–­fl ight–freeze response and helps to quell the sympathetic nervous system arousal (see Rifkin-­Graboi et al., Chapter 4, this volume). Children exposed to marital violence and maltreatment have been shown to have increased activation of both of these systems (Saltzman, Holden, & Holahan, 2005). Evidence has accumulated that chronic exposure to stress in early childhood is tantamount to an environmental toxin affecting the developing central nervous system and leading to enduring adverse effects across a range of brain structures and functions, as well as mental and physical problems and susceptibility to illness (McEwen, 2003). However, it is not just what happens and when it happens to the infant that determines long-term outcome. It matters quite clearly who that infant is, constitutionally, in terms of how the effects will manifest. The field of infant mental health is rapidly assimilating recent understanding of “gene–­ environment interactions” or (“G × E”). In the Dunedin study (Caspi et al., 2002), a func-



tional X-linked variant or “polymorphism” of the gene encoding the neurotransmitter­metabolizing enzyme mono­­amine oxidase-A (MAO-A) was found to moderate subsequent effects of physical abuse, thereby explaining variability in outcome. Those with the variant conferring high levels of MAO-A expression were less likely to develop violent and other deviant behavior indicative of antisocial behavior. These findings were replicated and extended in two other studies of abused and neglected white children (Nilsson et al., 2007; Widom & Brzustowicz, 2006), although another study with a more diverse sample failed to replicate this effect (Huizinga et al., 2006). Further study is thus needed in this area. At least two studies have demonstrated the association between life stress and negative life events, as well as major depression, in the presence of a specific genetic polymorphism (Caspi et al., 2003; Silberg, Rutter, Neale, & Eaves, 2001). In the latter study, presence of the short allele of the promoter region of the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTT) in combination with life stress was considered to be a risk factor for depression. Specific inherited genetic variants may thus augment risk for traumatic life experiences to cause the organism to follow one or another developmental path (Fischer et al., 1997). Developmental differences are also challenging. For example, because adult patients with PTSD due to childhood physical and sexual abuse were noted to have had lower hippocampal volumes (Bremner et al., 1997), one possibility proposed was that individuals born with smaller hippocampi would be vulnerable to PTSD. This hypothesis was supported in a twin study (Gilbertson et al., 2002). DeBellis et al. (2002), however, did not find that maltreated children showed these differences in the hippocampus, as compared to nonmaltreated matched controls— even though maltreated children exhibited other differences, such as the size of the midsagittal corpus callosum. Most recently, a prospective study of children with PTSD has shown that, consistent with the work of Sapolsky (2000), traumatic stress-­associated insult to the hippocampus during formative development is associated with smaller hippocampi subsequently (Carrion, Weems, & Reiss, 2007). We have very few data about children in the first 3 years of life, however.

DEVELOPMENTAL CONTEXT In describing the effects of trauma upon development, Fischer et al. (1997) have stated that “contrary to the standard assumption that psychopathology stems from developmental immaturity,” psychopathology is actually a form of “adaptation” to trauma, with the individual deviating from normative developmental frameworks (p.  749). With respect to maltreatment, Fischer et al. note that children who are victims of maltreatment have normal developmental complexity but distinctive affective–­cognitive organizations with specific features such as negative attribution biases in play and distorted representations of interactions. Similarly, Cote, Vaillancourt, Barker, Nagin, and Tremblay (2007) have shown that hostile parenting interferes with the redirection of normative aggression to socially acceptable behavior, and is significantly associated with higher levels of interpersonal difficulties, including hostile peer-­directed aggression persisting beyond 2 years of age. Development has also been shown to impact the risk for maltreatment (Horner­Johnson & Drum, 2006) as well as the expression of the effects of maltreatment and violent trauma by virtue of its being delayed or otherwise fundamentally or pervasively disturbed (Turk, Robbins, & Woodhead, 2005). Just as the preverbal infant has been shown to express adverse effects of violent traumatization, the language-­delayed or disturbed preschooler also has been shown to display behavioral signs of violent traumatization to the trained clinician (Cook, Kieffer, Charak, & Leventhal, 1993; Turk et al., 2005). Further complicating the interaction of violent trauma and child development, maltreatment has itself been associated with language delay in vocabulary, production of syntactic structures, as well as internal state language (Beeghly & Cicchetti, 1994; Eigsti & Cicchetti, 2004). The tragedy remains, however, that violent experience and maltreatment during the first 5 years of life can do the most damage to the developing brain and mind, and yet it is during this same period when the majority of abuse, neglect, and family violence occurs. It is also during this period when the forms of parental psychopathology and substance abuse that often contribute to the

12. The Effects of Violent Experiences

occurrence of traumatic events are at their most noxious. Next we discuss the impact of developmental organization on the shaping of what constitutes an exposure, as experienced by the child victim; the neurobiological effects of exposure; and the encoding, processing, and retrieval of traumatic memory and its influence on the effect of subsequent traumatic experience.

Developmental Considerations of Exposure In reviewing the language of the DSM-IV, we can readily appreciate how infants and young children may not be aware that an event has posed to them “actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others,” even though most children are exposed to one or more of these events from infancy onward (Copeland, Keeler, Angold, & Costello, 2007; Costello et al., 2002). Similarly, an infant or toddler might perceive an event as life threatening that would not be felt as life threatening to an older child or adult; for example, a parent pushing another parent violently during an argument, or a sibling pushing the toddler down in a bathtub, resulting in the child’s head being briefly submerged in very shallow water. Rather, very young children may show fear for other reasons. As Eth and Pynoos (1994) have described in reviewing cases of children who have witnessed the homicide of a parent, young children are more likely to find an unanticipated aspect most disturbing, such that the clinician needs to ask, in an open-ended way, what was scary to the child. For example, the removal of the parent’s corpse by strangers in an ambulance may be more disturbing than the actual murder. Additionally, concepts of human malevolence and death are not fathomable in the first 3 years of life, but emerge between 3 and 5 years (Barrett & Behne, 2005). A man wielding a gun in the near vicinity may not be inherently frightening to the infant or toddler. However, beginning with the developmental achievement of secondary intersubjectivity at approximately 8–10 months, infants are able to experience the fear felt by others around them and become frightened. Even infants younger than 8 months are able to sense their caregivers’ fear and


hyperarousal, and may become distressed in response to the reaction of the caregiver to the impending trauma, rather than to the threat itself. By 18 months, as toddlers develop increased representational capacity that allows them to compare mental representations of expected appearances and behaviors based on prior relational experience, with new input, they attain greater capacity to appreciate, reenact, and remember real-life experiences, including a potential threat to themselves and their caregiver(s) (Lukowski et al., 2005; Simcock & DeLoache, 2006). Scheeringa and Zeanah (1995) found that the most powerful trauma factor in young children following exposure to a traumatic event was threat to the caregiver. This finding was replicated in a study of children 1–18 years (Scheeringa et al., 2006).

Neurobiology We noted earlier in this chapter that violent trauma early in life—­particularly when involving repeated and severe exposure—­ impacts the central nervous system, brain development, and the overall health of the individual (McEwen, 2003). We now review in greater depth the underlying neurobiology of the sequelae of violence exposure in a developmental and relational context. Preclinical studies have shown that areas of the brain that are particularly prone to the adverse effects of maltreatment and violent trauma during the first 3–5 years of life include (1) those that have a prolonged postnatal developmental period, (2) those with a high density of glucocorticoid receptors, and (3) those that have the potential for postnatal neurogenesis (Teicher et al., 2003). These areas include, most prominently, the hippocampus, amygdala, corpus callosum, cerebellar vermis, and the cerebral cortex. When a rat infant undergoes severe stress, such as repeated foot shocks, the hippocampus fails to form the expected density of synaptic connections. Normative pruning of these connections nonetheless occurs later in the prepubertal period, so adult animals who were repeatedly stressed in infancy end up with far fewer synaptic connections in this region (Andersen & Teicher, 2004). These results support Carrion et al.’s (2007) findings that differences in hippocampal volume



in patients with PTSD are more likely due to the neurotoxicity of stress hormones than to a constitutional size difference. Clinical implications of hippocampal and amygdalar damage due to stress hormones may include increased propensity for confusion of past and present, flashbacks, and dissociative symptoms (Sakamoto et al., 2005). The corpus callosum is a heavily myelinated region of the brain that is associated with hemispheric integration. High levels of stress hormones during infancy and early childhood have been associated with suppressed glial cell division, which is critical for myelination (Berrebi et al., 1988). DeBellis et al. (2002) observed that reduced corpus callosum size was the most significant structural finding noted in children with a history of maltreatment and PTSD. Disturbances in the myelination of the corpus callosum and cortex due to excessive exposure to glucocorticoids during the first 3 years of life may explain some of the difficulties that maltreated preschool-age children have in integrating cognitive and emotional information and in taking others’ perspective, in comparison to nonmaltreated age-­matched controls (Pears & Fisher, 2005). Among the most exciting research that illustrates the interaction of development and traumatic experience is that regarding the differential effects of specific types of maltreatment and violent trauma on the brain at critical periods of development through early adulthood in both animal and human models (Hall, 1998; Teicher, Tomoda, & Andersen, 2006). For example, repeated episodes of child sexual and physical abuse were associated in the same group of subjects with reduced hippocampal volume if the abuse was reported to occur in early childhood, but with reduced prefrontal cortex volume if the abuse occurred during adolescence (Teicher, 2005). Similar exposure during different, temporally discrete windows of development may have very different clinical implications.

Effects on Memory The psychological and neurobiological implications of exposure to traumatic events also involve the infant and young child’s developmentally determined capacity to encode, remember, and recall those events in order

to subsequently make meaning of their experience. Recent evidence suggests that even prior to 1 year of age, infants’ capacity to recall events is well underway. By the end of the second year of life, long-term memory is reliably and clearly present, especially when there have been reinforcing memories (i.e., repeated exposures or explicit reminders), which are unfortunately all too common in cases of maltreatment and family violence (Bauer, 2006; Hartshorn & Rovee-­Collier, 2003). Based on her review of the literature, Fivush (1998) has noted that traumatic events perceived before the age of 18 months are frequently not verbally accessible, whereas events experienced between 18 and 36 months can often be coherently recounted and retained as long-term memories. Two important case studies have raised the issue of memory and recall in infancy and early childhood. Two young children endured severe direct exposure to the murder of their primary caregiver, one at 12 months (Gaensbauer, Chatoor, Drell, Siegel, & Zeanah, 1995) and the other at 19 months (Kaplow, Saxe, Putnam, Pynoos, & Lieberman, 2006). Both cases suggest that under such extreme circumstances traumatic memories are encoded in detail and consolidated, although they may yet not be readily accessible to verbal narrative memory. Such individuals with early exposure remain vulnerable to triggers of their traumatic memories. As is found in many children who were maltreated prior to 2 and 3 years of age, they may display difficulty in regulating their emotional responses when confronted with high degrees of negative emotion in themselves or others. They may also have difficulty in developing coherent, balanced self-­representations, consistent behavioral organization, and trust leading to the development of new relationships (Hartman & Burgess, 1989). Early chronic and/or severe exposure to violence and/or maltreatment has also been noted to lead to greater pervasive insult to memory functions and to promote dissociative processes that can interfere with memory retrieval (Howe, Cicchetti, & Toth, 2006; Nelson & Carver, 1998). One mechanism for this biological insult to memory function is thought to be primarily the effect of excessive glucocorticoids, which damage the developing structures involved in memory contextualization and storage, such as the

12. The Effects of Violent Experiences

hippocampus (Sapolsky, 2000; Sapolsky, Uno, Rebert, & Finch, 1990). It is clear that over the course of formative development, exposure to violent trauma and maltreatment can affect the degree and nature of changes in the neurobiology of the brain.

THE RELATIONAL CONTEXT In support of the notion that exposure is extensively shaped by relational experience, Freud and Burlingham (1943) said the following about young children’s experience during the London Blitz in World War II: The war acquires comparatively little significance for children so long as it only threatens their lives, disturbs their material comfort, or cuts their food rations. It becomes enormously significant the moment it breaks up family life and uproots the first emotional attachments of the child within the family group. London children, therefore, were on the whole much less upset by bombing than by evacuation to the country as a protection from it. (p. 37)

The violent traumatization of an infant or very young child, whether due to maltreatment or exposure to familial, community, war, or terroristic violence, is most significantly a breach in safety. Unlike older children or adults, very young children experience their world contextually, from within the embrace of the primary attachment relationship (Scheeringa & Zeanah, 2001). Their sense and expectation of safety are therefore inherently bound to the caregiver. To appreciate the effects of violence on young children requires an understanding of the goals and mechanisms involved in the attachment relationship as well as the ways in which trauma impacts attachment.

Attachment, Safety, and Violence In the anchoring concept of attachment theory, the ethological wisdom of a caregiver–­ infant behavioral system is seen as ensuring species’ survival (Bowlby, 1969). The infant’s drive to maintain safety is paramount and is expressed in attachment behaviors that may phenotypically change over time but that serve the same purposeful goal of achieving “felt security” (Bretherton, 1990). Perturbations in the infant’s ability to achieve felt se-


curity necessarily result in adaptations that may be more or less pernicious, depending on the quality and degree of frustration. In response to the primary attachment figure’s track record of providing “felt” security, the infant constructs an “internal working model” of self and other. This internal representation consolidates over the first 3 years of life and guides the infant’s expectations and behaviors in times of stress. The experience of violence, with its attendant physiological “felt anxiety,” might therefore be conceptualized as the exact affective opposite of felt security. The young child does not yet have the cognitive ability to mediate feelings of fear that result when exposed to violence, either as victim or witness. For young children, the caregiver’s role is to function as external regulator of negative or overwhelming internal affect and sensation. Several violence scenarios may be imagined in which the caregiver is unavailable to soothe infant anxiety: when the caregiver is being victimized, when the caregiver is a witness to violence and becomes too hyperaroused or too dissociated/avoidant to provide safety, or when the caregiver is the source of the violence—as in the case of parental child abuse (Carlson, 2000). A toddler who has internalized a working model in which he or she is unprotected and repeatedly left subject to overwhelming fear—one of the definitional criterion for trauma—may develop what has been termed distortions in secure-base behavior (Lieberman & Pawl, 1990). Such distortions are, in fact, attempts by the child to manage unmanageable anxiety without the actual or “real time” mentally represented assistance of the caregiver. If early childhood is characterized by a relational context in which the child’s ability to manage stress is determined by caregiver response, then the mental health status of the caregiver becomes a vital concern. Fraiberg, Adelson, and Shapiro (1975) called attention to the profound effects of maternal mental health on the developing child. The “ghosts in the nursery” that Fraiberg et al. described were malevolent internalized attachment figures who had subjected the caregiver to various forms of maltreatment during his or her own childhood. Fraiberg et al. observed that caregiver traumatization in the past resulted in (1) his or her present-day inability to respond appropriately to infant anxiety,



or (2) his or her engagement in behavior that actually induced anxiety. From an attachment perspective, the infant’s working model of self and other is thereby shaped by the caregiver’s disturbed attachment representations. Exploring representational models, Fonagy et al. (Fonagy, Moran, Steele, Steele, & Higgitt, 1991; Fonagy, Steele, Moran, Steele, & Higgitt, 1993) identified the capacity for “reflective functioning” as an awareness of a meaningful relationship between underlying mental states (feelings, thoughts, motivations, intentions) and behavior in and between both self and others. Fonagy’s group found that caregiver reflective functioning was significantly predictive of infant attachment classification. The caregiver’s capacity to “read” infant mental states accurately, and with inference of meaning, allows for sensitively attuned responses that create a subjective experience of security/safety and support the infant’s developing capacity for self-­regulation (Bretherton & Munholland, 1999). However, when engaging in reflective functioning leads to the experiencing of highly negative affect, certain aspects of mental functioning may be defensively inhibited (Fonagy, Steele, Steele, Higgitt, & Target, 1994) or excluded (Bretherton, 1990). A caregiver in a state of defensive inhibition will be incapable of accurately responding to and reflecting the child’s mental state, leaving the child to manage states of arousal and anxiety on his or her own. Consistent with this formulation is the finding that young children assessed as having a disorganized attachment have caregivers who are often unresolved with respect to past traumatic experience (Lyons-Ruth & Jacobvitz, 1999). In short, caregiver history of attachment relationships and of trauma exposure determines not only the dyad’s quality of attachment, via reflective functioning, but additionally the manner in which trauma exposure will be processed by both child and caregiver. Thus, traumatic violence can interfere with the initial development of a secure and organized attachment or derail a previously secure attachment if the caregiver is sufficiently adversely affected. Disturbances in attachment, in turn, confer increased for (1) recovery from trauma exposure by the child and/or caregiver (Fisher, Gunnar, Dozier, Bruce, &

Pears, 2006), (2) enactment of maltreatment by the traumatized caregiver (Cicchetti, Rogosch, & Toth, 2006), (3) child exposure to trauma via inadequate caregiver monitoring (Schechter, 2006; Schechter, Brunelli, Cunningham, Brown, & Baca, 2002; Schechter et al., 2005), and (4) subsequent repetition and transmission of risk by the traumatized child and/or caregiver (Weinfield, Whaley, & Egeland, 2004). Such evidence supports the contention that we must view infant mental health disturbances through the dual conceptual lenses of attachment theory and trauma theory (Lieberman, 2004). Recognition of the importance of the relational context surrounding experiences of trauma in clinical assessment and treatment has emerged in several applications, one of which described mediating, moderating, and mixed mediating–­moderating effects on PTSD within the parent–child relationship (Scheeringa & Zeanah, 2001), and another that considers the importance of assessing parents’ awareness of child states following terrorism or disaster (Coates, Schechter, & First, 2003).

Relational Neurobiology Like all psychological functions, the child’s expectations in relation to attachment figures have neurobiological correlates. In addition to the effects of cortisol noted earlier, physical abuse, compounding its clear effects on emotion regulation and separation anxiety within the context of attachment, has been found to be associated with attentional dysregulation and selective biases to angry and negative affect (Pollak & Torrey­Schell, 2003). Moreover, from early infancy, children are dependent on their attachment figures to reflect back to them how they are feeling and to make sense of their experience. Expectation of contingent responsiveness during early infancy has been described empirically in the work of Gergely and Watson (1996), who also first described the “marking” of the infant’s affect by the primary caregiver—the processing and modulation of that affect, which feeds back a sense of empathy as well as serving a modulatory function for the baby, beginning in the period of the second to fifth months of life. Subsequently, Gergely (2001) noted that lack of marking

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and overidentification with the child’s perspective may interfere with affect regulation, particularly around crises and trauma. We now know that specific neural circuits in the developing brain, among which the mirror neuron system figures prominently, are crucial to the development of social cognition, self-­awareness, affect regulation, and learning (Iacoboni & Dapretto, 2006). The functional implications of these cortical premotor planning and parietal structures in the context of early development are only just beginning to be understood. The impact of violence exposure on the development of these circuits with respect to expression of aggression remains to be studied Myron Hofer (1984) has described multiple “hidden regulators” embedded within the attachment system across mammalian species. The need for mutual regulation of emotion and arousal in humans lasts approximately as long as it takes for integrative structures in the brain to myelinate and prefrontal cortical areas to develop, all of which serve to assist the child in self-­regulation in the face of stress and fear. In other words, the primary caregiver is, during the first 5 years of life, crucial to the infant’s developing self­regulation. The hidden regulators embedded within the attachment system include those of sleep, feeding, digestion, and excretion as well as higher functions of emotion, arousal, and attention. The literature contains many examples of how the sequelae of a caregiver’s experience of violent trauma and maltreatment, PTSD, affective disorders, severe personality disorders, and substance abuse can impair this fundamental regulatory function during formative stages of development, both at the representational and behavioral levels of attachment (Lyons-Ruth & Block, 1996; Schechter et al., 2005; Theran, Levendosky, Bogat, & Huth-Bocks, 2005), and contribute to intergenerational transmission of violent trauma and maltreatment. Neurobiologically based studies of primates, specifically, macaque monkeys, have helped to elucidate the role of attachment in interrupting versus promoting intergenerational transmission of maltreatment (Barr et al., 2004; Maestripieri, 2005; Shannon et al., 2005). In Shannon et al.’s study (2005), maternal absence (i.e., neglect) was associated with decreased serotonin replenishment, a finding associated with mood and impulse


disorders, as well as with increased alcohol consumption (in Barr et al.’s study, 2004). Recent research has also supported transgenerational transmission of biological response to trauma. Whether this finding proves ultimately to be a risk or resilience factor remains a question. An affected mother’s exposure to violent trauma during pregnancy (i.e., the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City) and her glucocorticoid stress response were linked to the glucocorticoid levels, upregulation of the receptor setpoint, and behavior of her infant by 9 months of life (Yehuda et al., 2005). Yehuda et al. (2005) found that those mothers who were pregnant, in their second or third trimester, escaped the World Trade Center, and who themselves (along with their babies) had lower salivary cortisol levels one year postpartum, were more likely to develop PTSD subsequently. More strikingly, their infants were also more likely to have lower salivary cortisol and to display greater distressed behavior to novelty by 9 months. Could this transmission of response to shared stress during pregnancy be one example at the very beginning of the organism’s life of adaptation in the service of evolution? Is the mother’s biology preparing the offspring for expectation of threat? If so, can one say that the development of PTSD (and/or other posttraumatic psychopathology) is a form of risk if no further threat actually exists, or resilience in the form of potentially beneficial hypervigilance to actual subsequent threat? As the hypothalamic–­midbrain–­limbic– paralimbic–­cortical circuits in the caregiver respond jointly to infant stimuli, as has been found in recent neuroimaging studies among normative mother–­infant dyads (Swain, Lorberbaum, Kose, & Strathearn, 2007), one can imagine a cycle of dysregulation in which unquelled infant distress becomes a stressor particularly for a traumatized parent. Indeed, while watching video clips of their children during separation and other stressful moments, group differences between violence-­exposed mothers of toddlers and nonexposed mothers have been noted with respect to measures of integrative behavior, autonomic nervous system activity, and brain activation (Schechter, 2006). We know that an important determinant of the effects of traumatic exposure (e.g., how



long they endure) is the primary caregiver’s ability to help restore a sense of safety via regulation of infant emotion, sleep, arousal, and attention (Laor, Wolmer, & Cohen, 2001; Scheeringa & Zeanah, 2001). These emerging findings may illuminate the ways in which the experience of violent trauma and its sequelae interfere with this primary caregiving function. On a positive note, we have also begun to understand how new relationships, most dramatically that of foster care, can curb if not reverse at least some of the effects of early violent trauma exposure (Fisher et al., 2006; Zeanah et al., 2001).

PREVENtIVE INTERVENTIONS AND TREATMENT As our understanding of the relationships among violence, trauma, and early childhood has flourished (Osofsky, 2004), so has attention to prevention and intervention. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN: www.nctsn.org) works actively to disseminate information about effective evidence-based mental health treatment options and innovations. At the national policy level, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, and the Department of Health and Human Services have developed the Safe Start Initiative: A Federal–­Community Partnership Program (Kracke, 2001). The purpose of the initiative is to prevent and reduce the impact of family and community violence on young children (under 6 years old) by funding the expansion of partnerships among all levels of early childhood, mental health, and criminal justice service providers. The best known and studied prevention program designed to prevent abuse and neglect is the Nurse–­Family Partnership (NFP; Olds, Sadler, & Kitzman, 2007). The NFP program sends trained nurses into the homes of high-risk, first-time mothers, beginning during pregnancy and continuing until the child reaches 2 years of age. The program was designed to address poor birth outcomes, child abuse and neglect, and decreased economic self-­sufficiency. At 15-year follow-up, participant mothers were 48% less likely to be identified as perpetrators of abuse and neglect. However, the program

did not target domestic violence and had no discernable impact on reducing it. Regarding treatment of already traumatized children, the evidence base of practice is growing steadily. For example, trauma­focused cognitive-­behavioral therapy (Cohen & Mannarino, 1996) and infant/child–­ parent psychotherapy (Cicchetti et al., 2006; Lieberman, Van Horn, & Ghosh Ippen, 2005a) are well established. The use of videotape feedback also has become a valuable tool in the arsenal of early childhood intervention, especially to counteract the effects of posttraumatic avoidance and dissociation (Schechter et al., 2006). Even a single session of guided video review with severely traumatized mothers has been shown to reduce negative attributions about the child (Schechter et al., 2006). Evidenced-based interventions in foster care for young children also have been shown to reduce cortisol values, behavioral problems, and insecure attachment behaviors in the children and to reduce placement disruptions and recidivism (Dozier, Peloso, Lewis, Laurenceau, & Levine, 2008; Fisher et al., 2006; Zeanah et al., 2001).

CONCLUSIONS This chapter has provided a framework for consideration of at least four dimensions that are essential to assessing and treating the infant or young child who may have been exposed to violent trauma and/or maltreatment: the nature of the exposure, infant constitutional factors, developmental context, and relational context. It is our hope that clinicians and investigators reading this chapter will now think: “What happened to the infant?” “Who is the traumatized infant in psychobiological terms?” “When did the trauma occur in the life course of the infant?” “Who is in the infant’s relational world who can either help or hinder making sense of what happened?” Acknowledgment The authors would like to acknowledge Ms. Jaime McCaw, Coordinator of the Parent–Child Interac-

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tion Project at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, for her helpful assistance in the editing and preparation of this chapter.

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C h a p t e r 13

The Relational Context of Adolescent Motherhood Sydney L. Hans Matthew J. Thullen


he birth of a child marks an important family transition. When the mother is a teenager, there are concerns that the transition to parenthood is “off time” and will place her and her baby at risk. Although most American teenage mothers come from backgrounds of limited socioeconomic opportunity, teenage childbearing cuts across all major American ethnic groups, and the largest numbers of teenagers bearing children are European American (Martin et al., 2007). Despite declining rates of adolescent childbearing during the past several decades, the United States continues to have markedly higher teenage birth rates than other Western industrialized nations (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 2001). Schools, health clinics, and community agencies continue to search for ways to best support the needs of these young families. The children of adolescent mothers are more likely than offspring of older mothers to display developmental and behavioral problems during early childhood and beyond and to become teenage parents themselves (Brooks-Gunn & Chase-­Lansdale, 1995; East & Felice, 1996; Hardy et al., 1997). Two mechanisms have been proposed for how risk is transmitted to the children of teenage mothers (Berlin, Brady-Smith, &

Brooks-Gunn, 2002). First, at a distal level, the varied sociodemographic and family conditions that are associated with adolescent childbearing in the United States, including family and community poverty, single parenthood, and limited parental education, may place children at risk (Brooks-Gunn & Chase-­Lansdale, 1995; Turley, 2003). Second, at a proximal level, the parenting behavior of the young mother and the kind of nurturing relationship she is able to establish with her child may impact the child’s development. In this chapter we focus on relationships between teenage mothers and their infants and interventions designed to support those relationships. Although infant mental health practitioners tend to focus their work on the mother and her baby, the birth of a baby also involves shifts in other family relationships (Cowan & Cowan, 1995). These emerging and realigning relationships have unique features when the mother is a teenager who may not be developmentally ready to take on the parenting role, who may continue to be parented by her own mother, and who may be involved in a fragile relationship with her child’s father. We also consider the relationships young mothers have with important people in their lives, especially their own 214

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mothers and their babies’ fathers, and interventions designed to support those relationships. Finally, recognizing the “effect of relationships on relationships” (Emde, 1991) as a central tenet of the infant mental health perspective, we also explore how young mothers’ relationships with grandmothers and partners support the mother–­infant relationship and how infant mental health practitioners working with adolescent mothers might think about their work within a broader ecology of family relationships.

ADOLESCENT MOTHER–INFANT RELATIONSHIPS Scholars, practitioners, and the public have expressed a variety of concerns about teenagers’ readiness to take on the mothering role. The sacrifices and hard work that are involved in parenting stand in contrast to teenagers’ presumed developmental needs to focus on their education, to interact with peers, and to explore a variety of identities. Many adolescent mothers do struggle to give up their lives as teenagers to assume the responsibilities of parenthood. One young mother bemoaned: “I don’t want to feel like an adult and . . . I would like to go back to just me and my boyfriend” (Easterbrooks, Chaudhuri, & Gestsdottir, 2005, p. 321). However, motherhood need not be at odds with the developmental challenges of adolescence. For many young mothers, the transition to motherhood does not so much disrupt their lives as it provides a new and positive agenda. For young women who see themselves as having limited potential in the world of school and work, being a good mother can provide a sense of accomplishment that otherwise might be unachievable. Although the public often views adolescent parenthood as a tragedy, the young mothers themselves sometimes frame it as an important and empowering transformation (McMahon, 1995). Some teenage mothers tell stories of metamorphoses into the kind of person who can be a good mother. One young mother said, “I changed a lot . . . I was more nicer, calmer, things like that . . . I stopped fighting, arguing a lot. I was trying to do better” (Brubaker & Wright, 2006, p. 1225). Other mothers talk about becom-


ing motivated to work harder in school in order to provide a future for their children (Lashley, 2007). Concerns also focus on whether young parents have achieved the capacity for perspective taking that would allow them to understand and respond to the child’s expression of needs. Literature comparing the parenting of teenage and adult mothers has demonstrated that, on average, teenage mothers are less sensitive and responsive to their infants. They are less able to read their infants’ cues for comfort, food, and exploration accurately and more likely to respond to cues with detachment, intrusiveness, or anger (Osofsky, Hann, & Peebles, 1993; Pomerleau, Scuccimarri, & Malcuit, 2003). Compared with older mothers, teenagers engage less in affectionate behavior (Krpan, Coombs, Zinga, Steiner, & Fleming, 2005) and verbalize less with their infants (Culp, Culp, Osofsky, & Osofsky, 1991; Pomerleau et al., 2003). Although not all studies contrasting teenage and older mothers have adequately controlled for differences between the groups in sociodemographic factors, recent analyses from the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project suggest that mothers who gave birth as teenagers are more likely to be unsupportive, detached, and intrusive with their infants, after controlling for a variety of demographic factors (Berlin et al., 2002). Finally, consistent with the findings on reduced maternal responsiveness and elevations in hostile parenting, infants of adolescent mothers have higher rates of insecure and disorganized attachments than adult mothers (Spieker & Bensley, 1994; Ward & Carlson, 1995). Despite these average differences between adolescent and older mothers, it is important to note that adolescent mothers vary widely in their parenting behavior and attitudes (Wakschlag & Hans, 2000), and increasingly, research has focused on identifying the factors that may heighten or reduce risk within populations of young mothers. Some studies have suggested that older adolescents show more competent parenting than younger adolescents (East & Felice, 1996; Easterbrooks et al., 2005; Hess, Papas, & Black, 2002). Other research has suggested that, in adolescents, responsive parenting and positive perception of infants is related to “cognitive readiness” to parent, which includes



knowledge and expectations about child development, commitment toward childrearing, and ability to assimilate knowledge and apply it flexibly in a childrearing context (East & Felice, 1996; Miller, Miceli, Whitman, & Borkowski, 1996). Maternal mental health has also been linked with parenting behavior among adolescent mothers. As is the case in adult mothers, depression in adolescent mothers is associated with a less responsive parenting style toward infants and young children (Leadbeater, Bishop, & Raver, 1996; Osofsky et al., 1993). In addition, studies have documented links between maternal aggression and conduct problems in young mothers and unresponsiveness to their infants (Cassidy, Zoccolillo, & Hughes, 1996). A variety of maternal dispositional and attitudinal characteristics have also been linked to differences in parenting among adolescent mothers. Mothers with a strong sense of efficacy display better parenting behavior (East & Felice, 1996; Hess et al., 2002). Adolescent mothers who hold more realistic developmental expectations show more sensitivity in interaction with their own toddlers than do other teenage mothers (Chen & Luster, 1999). Adolescent mothers of toddlers who overattribute emotions of anger and defiance to young children, in general, show less optimal and more coercive parenting behavior in interaction with their own children (Strassberg & Treboux, 2000). Teenage mothers who are able to engage reflectively in considering their own childhood histories are more sensitive to their infants (Brophy-Herb & Honig, 1999). It has also been noted that different teenage mother–­infant dyads display qualitatively different patterns of interaction (Easterbrooks et al., 2005). Many teenage mothers and infants engage in interactions that are highly, or at least adequately, mutually responsive. A subgroup of teenage mothers has trouble reading and responding to their infant’s signals. These mothers seem to act from their own agenda—­directing the play, choosing the toys, and sometimes becoming “peerlike” and competitive with their children. A different subgroup of teenagers seems somewhat helpless and passive in the free-play interactions. These mothers offer little structure to their infants—not positioning toys, making suggestions to the baby, or

commenting on their baby’s actions. These problematic subgroups each has different correlates and needs for different types of supportive intervention.

Parenting and Mother–­Infant Interventions with Adolescent Mothers Most programs targeting pregnant and parenting teenagers have prioritized preventing subsequent pregnancy and school dropout, often with less emphasis on supporting young women in their new roles as mothers and on supporting parent–child relationships (Chase-­Lansdale, Brooks-Gunn, & Paikoff, 1991). Still, a variety of intervention strategies have been developed for teenage mothers. Many of these programs are based in schools, but others deliver services in community health clinics, social service agencies, or in the young mothers’ homes. Few of these parenting programs have been evaluated, although a meta-­analytic review of 14, mostly small, interventions targeting adolescent mothers concluded that there is evidence that parenting interventions can impact maternal sensitivity, self-­confidence, and identity, as well as infant responsiveness to mother (Coren, Barlow, & StewartBrown, 2003). Most parenting programs provide teenagers with instruction in child development, infant safety, and fundamental caretaking skills. Programs that provide instruction in a structured, classroom-style format often struggle to engage young mothers. Increasingly intervention strategies have been developed that engage with young mothers’ individual interests and concerns. Making “home movie” videotapes of young women with their infants is a good strategy for engaging mothers, especially when they can keep a copy of the tape at the end of the intervention (Bernstein, 1997). Interventions based on videotapes have been effectively embedded in larger programs for adolescent parents, such as the Ounce of Prevention Fund Developmental Program (Bernstein, Percansky, & Wechsler, 1996; Hans, Bernstein, & Percansky, 1991). In one intervention study, conducted as a randomized controlled trial, mothers of 1-month-old infants watched a videotape of themselves and their infants (Koniak-­Griffin, Verzemnieks, & Cahill, 1992). Specially trained nurses pro-

13. Relational Context of Adolescent Motherhood

vided instructional feedback and encouraged the mothers to identify a part of the interaction about which they felt good. The discussion usually focused on issues of reading infant cues, responding to distress, and using language with young infants. Followup videotapes made a month later showed that the intervention had had an effect on maternal cognitive growth fostering of infant and on the infant’s responsiveness to the parent. Another promising individualized intervention for young mothers is Family Administered Neonatal Activities (FANA; Cardone, Gilkerson, & Wechsler, 2008). This intervention involves a set of techniques that elicit responses from newborn babies—and even unborn infants—­through which young mothers can explore and marvel in their baby’s sleep–wake cycles, perceptual and motor capabilities, personality, and preferences. Ultimately, the goal of this intervention is to support mothers in building strong emotional connections to their infants and in becoming attuned to their unborn or newly born infant’s signals. Other individualized interventions have focused on empowering teenage mothers to take on the role of mother during pregnancy and at the time of the birth. Community “doulas” are women from the teenager’s community, sometimes former adolescent mothers themselves, who provide support and childbirth education to young mothers during the pregnancy and are present at the birth to offer comfort and encouragement. Doulas help mothers connect in positive ways to their pregnancy and their baby and to see their own strengths and embrace their responsibilities as a mother (Abramson, Isaacs, & Breedlove, 2006; Glink, 1999). Results of a randomized controlled trial of doula support with young mothers suggest increased sense of maternal efficacy and greater positive interaction between young mothers and infants (Hans, 2005).

YOUNG MOTHER– GRANDMOTHER RELATIONSHIPS For most teenage mothers, their own mothers or mother figures play a very important role in their adjustment to parenthood. Not


only are adolescents still being parented by their mothers, but they typically rely on their mothers as their most important source of support, advice, and modeling with respect to childrearing (Brubaker & Wright, 2006; Voight, Hans, & Bernstein, 1996). A centerpiece of federal welfare reform legislation, implemented a decade ago, is a mandate that unmarried minor mothers live with a parent or guardian and stay in school until achieving a high school diploma or equivalent (Gordon, 1999). Although data on residence patterns after welfare reform are very limited at this point, they suggest that more than three-­quarters of teenage mothers now reside with a parent or parent figure (Kalil & Danziger, 2000). Evidence suggests that adolescent mothers who live in multigenerational households are more likely to remain in school and graduate (Gordon, Chase-­Lansdale, & Brooks-Gunn, 2004). Perhaps surprisingly, data do not suggest that coresidence with parents benefits young women in their roles as parents, and in fact, grandmother coresidence has been associated with unresponsive parenting by both teenage mothers and grandmothers (Chase­Lansdale, Brooks-Gunn, & Zamsky, 1994; East & Felice, 1996; Gordon et al., 2004; Spieker & Bensley, 1994). The birth of a baby to a teenager necessitates a transition not only for a young mother but also for her own mother (Burton & Bengtson, 1985). Although multigenerational family patterns that are supportive of young mothers are common within African American and Latino communities (Burton, 1990; Russell & Lee, 2006), this does not mean that mothers of teenagers are eager to become grandmothers. The reality is that a teenage pregnancy is rarely a welcome family event initially. Adolescent pregnancies are almost always met by grandmothers with shock and dismay, and at best, require adjustment as grandmothers deal with the loss of their hopes for their daughter’s achievement. One grandmother said: “I was not thrilled in the beginning—a shock—but now after a long day, I am happy to see the baby” (Sadler & Clemmens, 2004, p. 221). One young mother recalled her mother’s response in a similar manner: “She went off, she was acting crazy. She got mad, said ‘you’re having an abortion.’ . . . And then she finally learned to accept it” (Brubaker & Wright, 2006, p. 1219).



Early parenthood for teenagers may be linked to early grandparenthood for their mothers. Grandmothers may feel that they are too young to be grandmothers and may be resentful of the timing of the pregnancy—­ sometimes just after their youngest children are in school and when they are beginning to make plans for the next step in their own aspirations, such as returning to school or changing jobs. As one grandmother reflected in response to her daughter’s complaint that she had a negative attitude toward her grandchildren: “This is not easy to deal with. . . . I don’t want to start anew. . . . I want to be myself! . . . I’ve been raising kids by myself since I was 16, and now I’m at the place where I can do some things that I want for [myself] and I don’t want to start all over again. I don’t want it” (Wakschlag, 1992, p. 158). In addition to being a surprise, grandmotherhood may also be the beginning of heavy obligations to care for the younger generation again and to provide economically for multiple generations of the family. Because of welfare reform in the United States, many grandmothers are often working in low-wage jobs and have economic responsibilities for their families that do not allow them to stay home and raise their grandchildren. The birth of a baby to a teenager is a financial stress for a family, and the added responsibilities of a new child in the home often lead to role overload for young mothers and for grandmothers who take on heavy child care responsibilities (Culp, Culp, Noland, & Anderson, 2006). Not surprisingly, there are often interpersonal stresses and conflicts between young mothers and their mothers. Many of the disagreements are typical of those for all adolescents and their families, focusing on topics such as household chores, school, and boyfriends (Sadler & Clemmens, 2004). However, many tensions focus directly around issues of caring for the infant. Grandmothers who take their roles as mentors and heads of household seriously may feel thwarted by the young mother’s lack of acceptance of responsibility or acknowledgment of her expertise. One grandmother describes this situation: “Sometimes she thinks she knows everything, and she doesn’t want to listen. I tell her, I know what I’m doing. When you try to teach her, sometimes she gets mad” (Sadler & Clemmens, 2004, p. 222).

The severity of the relationship distress is usually perceived as even greater by the young mother than by the grandmother (Caldwell, Antonucci, & Jackson, 1998). Young mothers may feel burdened by the responsibility of caring for the infant, but resentful or ambivalent about needing to rely on their mothers for support (East & Felice, 1996). From the perspective of one young mother: “It was a constant pull and a constant draining. . . . It became a point that I didn’t feel like she was my child at all. I really didn’t have any say-so over anything” (McDonald & Armstrong, 2001, p. 217). Although these stresses are very real, for most young mothers and grandmothers, they can be resolved through the “power of the baby” to help them stay focused on their shared goals and to work together (Sadler & Clemmens, 2004). Apfel and Seitz (1991), drawing on data from African American families, have suggested four models by which multigenerational families adapt to adolescent motherhood. In the “parental replacement model” the grandmother assumes near total responsibility for rearing the baby. In contrast, in the “parental supplement model” the grandmother and mother share the primary caregiving responsibilities. In the “supported primary parent model” the young mother is primarily responsible for the care of the child but receives regular assistance. In the “parental apprentice model” the grandmother actively educates the mother to be a parent but without supplanting her in the parent role. Although some data suggest that this last model has the most benefits for the mother as a parent (Oberlander, Black, & Starr, 2007), the parental supplement model may be the most common in practice, because it provides the greatest flexibility for coping with the shifting demands of life. SmithBattle (1996) also describes the benefits of the apprenticeship model in which the grandmother provides support and encouragement, shares caregiving in a fluid manner, but does not take over caregiving responsibilities. She notes that for apprenticeship to work, it must be embedded in a broader family climate of trust and mutuality that allows the young mother to be receptive to advice and assistance. Young women need to be taken seriously as mothers, not allowed to feel burdensome or incompetent, and definitely not left to experience

13. Relational Context of Adolescent Motherhood

the challenges of parenting on their own. One grandmother said about her 15-yearold daughter: “I kiss her every day and tell her I’m proud of her because she gets up, she goes to school, and as soon as she comes home she takes over the responsibility of her baby” (Ispa, Thornburg, & Fine, 2006, pp. 113–114). Notably, these grandmothers, rather than feeling competitive with their daughters for the affection of the baby, are able to experience pride and pleasure in their daughter’s parenting and in the connection between their daughter and the baby. One grandmother said: “I eat it up. It’s just so beautiful. When he cuddle up on his mother, I love it” (SmithBattle, 1996, p. 61). SmithBattle also warns that families can sometimes adapt a pattern of “adversarial care” in which a young mother is forced into her role as a mother or excluded from it. These are families in which issues of control and authority are central to their interactions—in which there is competition over the baby, conflict over caregiving tasks, and hypercritical attitudes. One grandmother quoted herself, nagging: “ ‘What do you mean he hasn’t been fed yet? What do you mean he hasn’t been changed yet? What do you mean he hasn’t had a nap today?’ And I know I’m real quick to judge and step in there and want to take over and do it, so it’s a constant battle within myself, not to be judgmental and be dictatorial” (SmithBattle, 1996, p. 59). From the perspective of the young mother, “My mom always jumping in and tell me what to do. She always jumps in, every day, all day, about every little thing” (p. 60). Such dynamics make it difficult for the young mother to gain experience interacting with her baby—­either because the grandmother takes over or because the young mother withdraws out of rebellion. A growing body of empirical research has explored ways in which relationships between young mothers and their mothers affect the young mothers’ well-being and their relationship with their baby. It is clear that relatively harmonious relations between young mothers and their own mother are important supports for the mother–­infant relationship. Support from grandmothers that is accompanied by high levels of conflict or demands to reciprocate by helping with household chores may not foster competent parenting in the young mother (Hess et al.,


2002; Richardson, Barbour, & Bubenzer, 1991; Voight et al., 1996) and may increase parenting stress, especially when the conflict focuses on childrearing issues (Spencer, Kalill, Larson, Spieker, & Gilchrist, 2002). It is also clear that there is an optimum amount of support that mothers should provide their parenting daughters if they are to develop their skills as mothers. In families in which the grandmother has no role in child care, young mothers show less competent parenting behavior, perhaps because they have had no opportunities to see positive parenting behavior modeled (Oberlander et al., 2007). On the other end of the pendulum, when grandmothers provide high amounts of child care, young mothers form less appropriate developmental expectations for their children (Culp et al., 2006), are less sensitive to their baby (Contreras, Mangelsdorf, Rhodes, Diener, & Brunson, 1999), and their baby is less engaged with them during interactions (Easterbrooks et al., 2005). The risks associated with high levels of grandmother support have been documented in samples of African American, European American, and acculturated Latino samples (although in less acculturated Latino samples, in which values of familism and interdependence after adolescence are strong, grandmother involvement seems to have no negative effect on the parenting of young mothers) (Contreras, Narang, Ikhlas, & Teichman, 2002). The pattern of interaction between young mothers and their mothers also may be related to interactions between young mothers and their children. This parallel process has been documented in two studies of African American families, where interactions were videotaped between adolescent mothers and their mothers and between adolescent mothers and their preschool-age children. The mother–­grandmother interaction was coded for different relationship characteristics, including emotional closeness, positive affect, grandmother directiveness, and adolescent individuation (Hess et al., 2002; Wakschlag, Chase-­Lansdale, & Brooks-Gunn, 1996). Individuation in the mother–­grandmother relationship was the strongest predictor of young mothers’ parenting behavior in interactions with their children. Young mothers whose discussions with their mothers combined self-­assertion with the ability to stay



connected despite differences, were significantly more likely to parent their preschoolers in a manner that balanced responsiveness and appropriate control. Thus, the challenge for multigenerational families with young parents is to find a balance between providing assistance and encouraging the young mother’s autonomy and competence. Striking such a balance may not be easy because it requires continual adjustments in responsibilities, roles, and relationships as the young mother gains in competence and confidence and as the child’s developmental needs shift and change. It requires a commitment to supervision and mentoring from the grandmother, on the one hand, and the capacity to stand back and allow her daughter to make mistakes as she “tries on” the parenting role, on the other. Despite these challenges, empirical evidence suggests that many families do find such a balance and that it impacts on mothers’ well-being and commitment to the parenting role over time (Apfel & Seitz, 1991).

Intervention with Adolescent Mothers and Grandmothers Research on teenage mothers and their mothers has many implications for intervention. Reducing stress for burdened grandmothers, reducing stress in mother–­grandmother relationships, and helping mothers and grandmothers negotiate their roles to achieve a balance of support and autonomy are key challenges that have implications for adolescents’ ultimate success as parents. Support or psychoeducation groups for grandmothers, young mothers, or both together hold much promise as vehicles for helping families learn to negotiate challenges, roles, and relationships. Groups can offer families specific strategies for conflict resolution and stress reduction. They also offer an opportunity to validate the important roles that all family members play in caring for the baby and to express the shared pleasure and pride they have in the child. Although the evidence base for the effectiveness of involving grandmothers in groups is thin, grandmother components have been added to teen parenting programs with some success (Roye & Balk, 1996). Home visiting components that include grandmothers and young mothers may also offer the interventionist

the opportunity to observe family routines and see how roles are negotiated in the family’s primary setting. In addition to program activities that focus directly on supporting young mother–­ grandmother relationships, infant mental health programs also need to recognize the key role that grandmothers play in families as a source of expertise on parenting (Bentley, Gavin, Black, & Teti, 1999). If the grandmother is left out of the discussion when intervention programs provide information about health and child care practices, such as feeding, sleeping, holding babies, and discipline, the intervention messages may not become part of family practice (Hanson, 1992). Moreover, disseminating parenting advice to young mothers without recognizing that the advice may be contradictory to that provided by the grandmother may not only be futile, but could be setting up the young mother for further conflict with her own mother (Korfmacher, 2008). Programs for young mothers ignore grandmothers for a variety of reasons. Many programs for pregnant and parenting teenagers are housed in schools where there may be challenges to including nonstudents in activities. Programs may have hours of operation that make it difficult for working grandmothers to participate. Other programs assume that their working alliance with a teenager will be harmed by including a family member. Some programs may have unstated biases that families of adolescent parents are dysfunctional and not likely to be helpful to them. Although early intervention programs are often reluctant to reach out to grandmothers, in one survey, 90% of young mothers indicated that it would be helpful to have family members participate in support and education programs (Crockenberg, 1986). Although they often feel they lack the skills to support their daughters, grandmothers almost always care deeply about their daughters and are highly invested in their daughters becoming good parents (Flaherty, 1988). These are powerful motivations for engaging with intervention. One research study that took the time to listen to the voices of grandmothers found that they had many suggestions for additional supports they would like to see in place, including groups, refresher courses on child development, job opportu-

13. Relational Context of Adolescent Motherhood

nities, help with housing, and child care resources (Sadler & Clemmens, 2004).

MOTHER–FATHER RELATIONSHIPS The men who father children with adolescent mothers share many sociodemographic characteristics with their partners, especially backgrounds characterized by poverty and limited educational achievement (Xie, Cairns, & Cairns, 2001). Even though only 20–40% of the partners of teenage mothers are themselves adolescents, most are relatively young men (Elo, King, & Furstenberg, 1999). The age discrepancy between young mothers and the fathers of their children is consistent with the fact that American women of all ages tend to partner with men who are 2–3 years older than themselves (Coley & Chase-­Lansdale, 1998). In recent decades the proportion of births to adolescents outside of marriage has increased dramatically so that out-of-­wedlock births to adolescents are “the rule” rather than the exception (McElroy & Moore, 1997). Although marriage rates are declining among all American ethnic groups, they remain especially low for young women of color (Martin et al., 2007). However, even though most teenage mothers are not married to their baby’s father, many of those fathers are highly involved with the mothers and children. During pregnancy most young fathers express a desire to be involved in the birth and in childrearing (Elster, 1988; Rivara, Sweeney, & Henderson, 1986), and paternal involvement tends to be most intensive soon after the birth (Lerman, 1993). Over the first few years of the child’s life, there is much variability among fathers in the degree to which they stay involved with the mother (Kalil, Ziol-Guest, & Coley, 2005a), and the pattern that has raised concern is declining paternal involvement as the child gets older (Gee & Rhodes, 2003). Although marriage is one indicator of the level of connection between a young mother and the father of her baby, other factors contribute to a more complex picture of the role of fathers in the lives of young mothers and their children. Fathers’ different ideas about the meaning of fatherhood may contribute to how they approach their relationships


with the mother and child. The provider role remains core to many young men’s definition of fatherhood (Anderson, 1993) and is still considered the “non-­negotiable duty of all fathers” by many mothers (Roy & Burton, 2007, p.  29). Young fathers who are working are more likely to maintain involvement with their children (Danziger & Radin, 1990). Some young mothers, acting as gatekeepers between fathers and their children, may limit access to men who are not adequate providers (Ray & Hans, 1997). In contrast to those who see the provider role as primary, some men see just “being there” for their child as the core of fatherhood. One young man described fatherhood as “spending quality time with my girl. Being a key part of her life. When she gets older, I want her to know that she can count on her daddy. I don’t want her to think that I’m just there to give her money” (Paschal, 2006, p.  85). Such young men are eager to support their children in other ways, such as taking an active role in caregiving, and mothers may adjust their expectations to accept these forms of support and involvement (Johnson, 2001; Roy & Burton, 2007). Finally, some fathers attach little significance to being a father and offer little involvement with their child or support of the mother (Paschal, 2006). Many adolescent fathers struggle to reconcile their idealized vision of fatherhood and the reality of providing for their child, given their age and economic constraints (Johnson, 2001; Rivara et al., 1986). Like young mothers, young fathers may be simultaneously navigating the demands of school, employment, expectations from others, and their own identity issues while trying to engage as a father (Miller, 1997). Strain from the cumulative effect of these concurrent stressors may make it harder for fathers to engage or easier to disengage from responsibilities and relationships associated with being a father (Bowman, 1989; Kiselica, 1995; Miller, 1997). The quality of the relationship between the father and young mother may be the most important factor in determining the father’s role in the mother and child’s life over time (Coley & Chase-­Lansdale, 1998; Cutrona, Hessling, Bacon, & Russell, 1998; Furstenberg & Harris, 1993; Marsiglio, 1987). The ways in which the two parents negotiate often stressful topics such as the status



of their romantic relationship, romantic relationships with others, the father’s financial support, caregiving roles, and decision making regarding the child, will shape and be shaped by the quality of their relationship (Ispa et al., 2006; Kiselica, 1995). Certainly, if the young parents have and maintain a romantically committed relationship, negotiating these parenting issues may proceed with relative ease. However, other relational configurations may emerge over time, from “amicable” nonromantic relationships to mutual disengagement to overt conflict. The struggle for young parents to negotiate a mutually satisfactory personal relationship can be a dynamic, sometimes volatile, process. One young mother describes the extreme fluctuation adolescent partner relationships can go through when dealing with the stress of the transition to parenthood: “He wanted to get married, but I didn’t feel that it would be right for my child because he was never around. And I said, ‘Well, what difference would it make if we got married, you wouldn’t be around?’ So I refused him, and he got very angry and pissed off and left. I’ve never seen him since” (Rains, Davies, & McKinnon, 1998, p. 311). Even expectant adolescents in a coupled, romantic relationship may be more likely to exhibit more negative and less positive interpersonal behaviors with one another than nonexpectant adolescent couples (Moore & Florsheim, 2001). How these common sources of tension between adolescent parents are dealt with can significantly influence the level of stress or support the young parents experience from one another or whether they stay involved with each other at all. The quality of the relationship between young parents is particularly important for maternal adjustment and parenting. The quality of the relationship between mother and father is positively associated with the mother’s parenting efficacy (Krishnakumar & Black, 2003). Declines in father involvement (Kalil, Ziol-Guest, & Coley, 2005b) or the quality of the relationship (Florsheim et al., 2003) are associated with increased maternal parenting stress. There is some evidence that adolescent mothers with supportive male partners are more responsive mothers (Crockenberg, 1987; Unger & Wandersman, 1988) and provide more positive childrearing environments (Cutrona et al.,

1998). Adolescent mothers with better relationships with their child’s father have also been found to exhibit less hostile-­controlling behavior with their toddlers (Florsheim et al., 2003). A supportive relationship with a partner appears to be a protective factor for parenting in young women who have themselves had problematic developmental histories (Crockenberg, 1987). Some studies have failed to find relations between support from a male partner and maternal well-being or mothering, presumably because fathers are sometimes a mixed blessing for mothers, providing them not only with support but also stress (Musick, 1994; Voight et al., 1996).

Interventions for Adolescent Mothers and Fathers Programs to foster the involvement of fathers in general have taken many different forms (see McBride & Lutz, 2004). Much of the variation in program models is due to shifting policy mandates over recent decades that emphasize different goals, such as preventing teen pregnancy, securing financial support from fathers, increasing direct father involvement with their children, and encouraging marriage (Mincy & Pouncy, 2002; Parikh, 2005). The majority of programs aiming to support paternal involvement are small, locally based initiatives (Johnson, 2001). Simply offering fathers the same services as mothers is not usually successful (Kiselica, 1995). Staff working in father programs need to be prepared to offer tangible, issue-­specific services and counseling to young men in a climate that is welcoming and respectful of the value males can bring to children’s development (Barth, Claycomb, & Loomis, 1988; McBride & Rane, 2001). Many programs attempt to offer comprehensive services that address the range of factors that contribute to father involvement over time in addition to the relationship-based factors (Barth et al., 1988; Mazza, 2002). Recognizing the centrality of the provider role to fatherhood across ethnic groups, fatherhood programs have emphasized educational and employment needs of young men. There is a need within these programs, however, to address cultural differences as well. Although European American fathers may

13. Relational Context of Adolescent Motherhood

often have greater economic opportunity, they may feel as though taking on a paternal role earlier than they had planned might be deleterious to their economic future (Kiselica, 1995). Also, European American and Latino fathers may experience more pressure to marry and/or cohabit with their baby’s mother. Latino fathers with relatively limited acculturation may have very traditional expectations with regard to the fatherhood role and experience distress if they are unable to fulfill it (Kiselica, 1995). Programs for young fathers can also offer services that focus directly on the father’s relationship with the baby and baby’s mother. Parent education groups, often offered prenatally, have been used successfully to increase young fathers’ knowledge about infant development and care (Westney, Cole, & Munford, 1988). Parent education is especially important for fathers who may seem to resist involvement with their children in the early years due to a lack of understanding of how to care for infants. One father shares: “When she starts all that crying and acting fidgety and stuff, I just give her to [mother of his child]. I don’t like all that. I love her, but I don’t know how to take care of her like that. . . . I’m not nervous with her, I just don’t know what to do with her. I think I’ll like handling her better when she gets older” (Paschal, 2006, p. 148). Although it is common for all fathers to become more comfortable with parenting as children enter toddlerhood and have developed communication and motor skills (Dallas, 2004), education can help young fathers feel less intimidated by infant care and afford feelings of pride and competency in parenting. Often young fathers assume that women have a special “intuition” for parenting. Once they recognize that parenting is often a “trial-anderror” process that even mothers go through to learn to read their baby’s cues, caring for the child is demystified (Johnson, 2007). Individual counseling and group components of young fatherhood programs can serve several important functions. One is to allow space in which the father can reflect on his own family experience and how that may impact his current approach to fathering (Parra-­Cardona, Wampler, & Sharp, 2006; Paschal, 2006). Counseling with the father or the father and mother jointly can also offer an opportunity for the father to


develop interpersonal skills that may solidify and maintain his partner relationship with the mother (Moore & Florsheim, 2001). Furthermore, counseling can help the father develop strategies for building a “cordial supportive relationship” with his baby’s mother even if they do not continue to be a romantic couple (Kiselica, 1995). Bottom line: Interventions with young parenting couples need to help them avoid an “all-or­nothing” approach to relational harmony in which father involvement is contingent on his romantic relationship with the mother and/ or his financial support (Johnson, 2007). The notion of “coparenting” may be a useful framework for intervening with adolescent parents who are no longer be romantically involved. This notion shifts the focus away from maintaining the romantic couple relationship to establishing and maintaining an effective, functional relationship pertaining specifically to parenting (Feinberg, 2002). Ideally, even while their personal relationship has ups and downs, young parents can try to maintain a collaborative effort in sharing parenting responsibilities while communicating respect for the investment, significance, and judgment of one another (Feinberg, 2002; McBride & Rane, 1998). Although there is a growing body of research on coparenting among married or divorced adult couples, little is yet known about how young, nonmarried parents manage coparenting or how to intervene with young parents around achieving a parenting alliance. One study, however, has found that the strength of the parenting alliance is a strong predictor of paternal behavior, as reported by young mothers (Futris & Schoppe-­Sullivan, 2007). Programs need to help young parents (1) recognize that both of them are needed to support the child’s wellbeing and development and (2) create strategies for setting aside their interpersonal issues to support their child’s development. Finally, adopting a life-­course perspective is important in understanding the ways in which young fathers influence the young mother’s experience as a parent and are involved with their children (Roy & Burton, 2007). Young fathers’ adaptation to their role as father may take time, particularly for those who are focusing on issues of school completion and economic skill development. Young fathers themselves articulate their



need for ongoing services as they negotiate issues of education and employment, changing people in their support environments, and their changing roles with their child’s mothers (Parra-­Cardona et al., 2006). Many young fathers may have expectations that are adjusted to their age, feeling that they will be better parents when they are older and can offer more to the child in terms of finances or paternal wisdom (Paschal, 2006). When young fathers do not seem ready to take on all aspects of the parenting role, it is important to find ways to “leave the door open” for their future involvement (Johnson, 2007). Despite the importance of the infant and toddler years as a foundation for later development, the connection of the father to the mother and child at later ages will also provide important resources and opportunities for the child.

BROADER RELATIONAL ECOLOGIES OF ADOLESCENT MOTHERHOOD Beyond the impact of mother–­grandmother and mother–­father relationships on teenage mothers and their babies, other relationships also matter. Furthermore, relationships young women have with different members of their networks are not independent of one another. In some ways, relationships work to complement and compensate for one another: When one person in her network offers high-­quality support, a young mother may have less need to seek support from other people; conversely, when one relationship is problematic, she may need to rely more heavily on others. For example, depending on the amount and quality of support provided by her family, the mother may have different needs or expectations for the father’s involvement (Cervera, 1991; Krishnakumar & Black, 2003). When mothers have strained relationships with their own family members, fathers may become particularly important as sources of support (Crockenberg, 1987) and are more likely to maintain involvement with the child (Gee & Rhodes, 2003). A high amount of grandmother support is associated with both low initial and decreased involvement of the father over the first year (Kalil et al., 2005a). Also, the negative effects of strain in the mother’s re-

lationship with the father may be buffered by grandmother support (Gee & Rhodes, 2003). Additionally, members of a young mother’s support network usually know and interact with one another and influence the relationship the other person has with the young mother and her infant. The relationship between maternal grandparents and young fathers may be especially important. Young fathers have been found to be more involved (Gavin et al., 2002) and to have a more affectionate and supportive relationship with young mothers (Krishnakumar & Black, 2003) when they have positive relationships with the young women’s mothers. These findings are consistent with growing literature on low-­income, unwed parents more generally, in which it appears that positive relationships with one another’s extended families are associated with stable, high-­father involvement and a greater likelihood of reengaging in high levels of involvement after periods of low levels of support (Ryan, Kalil, & Ziol-Guest, 2007). Maternal grandmothers may have powerful influence in shaping young mothers’ views of their partners, and as heads of households grandmothers may play powerful gatekeeping roles that may work to exclude the involvement of fathers with their daughters and grandchildren as a means of protecting their child. Alternatively, maternal and paternal family members often engage in other kinds of “kinwork” in which they recruit, enlist, and sometimes mentor young parents around the ultimate goal of the caring for the infant (Roy & Burton, 2007). When it works well, communication and understanding across families and generations may lessen stress on the young mother and father and ultimately benefit their engagement with their child (Miller, 1997). Finally, young mothers have many other important relationships that provide a context for their development as parents and their relationships with their infants. Family members other than mothers may be key sources of support to many young mothers—male relatives, extended female kin, siblings—but the empirical literature on these relationships is very limited. Similarly overlooked in the research literature on adolescent parenthood is the father’s family, even though paternal family often are an

13. Relational Context of Adolescent Motherhood

important direct resource for financial or caregiving assistance for young and unwed mothers and their children (Paschal, 2006; Roy & Burton, 2007). Sisters are often important influences on young mothers, providing child care and help with other domestic tasks (Gee, Nicholson, Osborne, & Rhodes, 2003; Voight et al., 1996). Yet those relationships with siblings may be complex and strained with all the usual rivalries that siblings may have, exacerbated by the added attention a baby elicits and the added work a baby demands on members of the household (Gee et al., 2003; Voight et al., 1996). Greater reliance on siblings for social support has been associated with greater psychological distress (Thompson, 1986) and poorer parenting behavior in teenage mothers (Voight et al., 1996). Peers have also been generally overlooked in the literature on adolescent motherhood, even though developmental theory emphasizes the importance of peers during adolescence. Although female friends with children have often been assumed to be a bad influence on young women, female friends can be a positive source of support for parenting. Female friends can provide adolescent mothers both a quantity and quality of emotional support that is comparable to, or even surpasses, that provided by kin (Lyons, Henly, & Schuerman, 2005; Richardson et al., 1991). Adolescent mothers’ support from friends has also been linked to maternal well-being (Colletta, 1981) and positive parenting behavior (Voight et al., 1996). Clearly, in order to garner an understanding of the experience of adolescent mothers as they negotiate their transition to parenthood and develop their relationship with their baby, a broader lens is needed to capture the ecology of relationships that contributes to their development as parents. Infant mental health practice and programming are grounded in a rich theoretical and empirical literature on the importance of the mother–­ infant dyad to the child’s development. We must also consider the broader relational context in which the mother and infant are embedded. We are only at the beginning of understanding how to conceptualize and study these networks of relationships, with current theoretical approaches offering thoughts about the structure and processes of informal support networks, family sys-


tems, or coparenting networks (McHale, 2007). More attention needs to be addressed to ways in which interventions designed to support young mothers and their infants can be strengthened by helping young mothers negotiate their systems of relationships and by including important members of those systems in infant mental health interventions. Acknowledgments We were supported in this work through the Irving B. Harris Infant Mental Health Training Program at The University of Chicago. We acknowledge the contributions that Lauren Wakschlag made to the chapter on early parenthood that appeared in the second edition of the Handbook, some of which appear in the current chapter. We thank Linda Henson for her feedback on this chapter, and Waldo Johnson, who gave us insights about young fathers.

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13. Relational Context of Adolescent Motherhood

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