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Children exposed to prenatal maternal psychological distress are at elevated risk for a range of adverse outcomes; however, it remains poorly understood whether postnatal influences can ameliorate impairments related to prenatal distress. The current study evaluated if sensitivematernal care during the first postnatal year could mitigate child cognitive and emotional impairments associated with prenatal psychological distress. Prenatal maternal psychological distress was assessed via self-reports of anxiety, depression, and perceived stress for 136 mothers at five prenatal and four postpartum time points. Quality of maternal care (sensitivity to nondistress, positive regard, and intrusiveness reverse-scored) were assessed during a mother–child play interaction at 6 and 12 months. Child cognitive function and negative emotionality were assessed at 2 years, using The Bayley Scales and the Early Childhood Behavior Questionnaire. Elevated prenatal distress was associated with poorer child cognitive function and elevated negative emotionality. Children exposed to elevated prenatal maternal distress did not, however, display these outcomes if they received high-quality caregiving. Specifically, maternal care moderated the relation between prenatal psychological distress and child cognitive function and negative emotionality. This association remained after consideration of postnatal maternal psychological distress and relevant covariates. Sensitive maternal care was associated with altered offspring developmental trajectories, supporting child resilience following prenatal distress exposure.


This article was originally published in Development and Psychopathology in 2021.

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Grande et al. supplementary material - Appendix


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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



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