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Women and Infants Mental Health Program

Infant Mental Health and Outcomes

Research suggests that symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders experienced by women during pregnancy can carry over into the postpartum period and affect the health, neuro-behavioral, and attachment outcomes of infants.

Research Activity

Maternal Anxiety during the Childbearing Years (MACY)

MACY is a longitudinal study from pregnancy to 18 months postpartum that examines the mechanisms by which maternal posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may influence infants’ psychobiological outcomes. Specifically, MACY is interested in studying how mothers who have had traumatic experiences cope with new stresses, and how stress and trauma may affect parenting, the mother and infant biology, and infant development.  Over the course of their participation, mothers complete surveys and narrative interviews and are videotaped interacting with their children. In addition, DNA and salivary cortisol samples are collected. A subset of participants are invited to participate in a sleep study in which both mother and child wear a watch-like device for a week-long period. This device measures light and motion and will enable us to examine sleep patterns and relate sleep to other psychobiological measures.

Results from this study indicate:

  • Mothers’ stress levels do not differ based on demographics such as age, income, education, race, or marital status.
  • Infants’ stress levels mimic mothers’, meaning babies look to their moms as an indicator of how stressed they should be after completing stress eliciting laboratory tests.
  • Access to supportive family members for childcare is helpful for child outcomes.  Families where mothers have access to a support network are less stressed in postpartum and their babies are better adjusted as well compared to families with less support. For example, babies whose mothers were stressed and anxious/depressed postpartum, were less likely to show distress and poor outcomes themselves when they were also cared for by supportive family member or friend.

Maria Muzik (PI), Israel Liberzon, Katherine Rosenblum, Hedieh Briggs, Julia Seng, Valerie Simon, Ann Stacks, Alissa Huth-Bocks and Marjorie Beeghly

Perinatal Infant Mother Attachment Cortisol Study (PIMACS)

PIMACS is a longitudinal study of the impact of depression and stress on the mother-infant relationship.  The purpose of this study is to better understand the role of maternal risk for depression on infant stress hormone levels early in life, and the possibility of long-term effects if the hormone levels are different from that which is seen in infants of mothers who are not at risk for depression. Enrolled women completed 4 prenatal study visits, including a baseline clinical interview, surveys and three blood draws at 28, 32 and 37 weeks gestation.  Postpartum visits included a 2 week infant exam, filmed mother-baby play interactions at home visits and a 14 month lab visit (Strange Situation).  Our ultimate goal is to identify pregnant women at risk for depression and determine if these chemicals in the body may help target their high-risk infants for early prevention strategies that would prevent or lessen the risk of development of psychiatric illness. Researchers also examined the factors within the mother's social environment and in the mother-infant relationship that might contribute to depression in the mother or impact the development of their infant. Because stress hormones are high in women who have depression, we are also looking at changes in stress related hormones through pregnancy, delivery, and on the mother and the infant through the first months of life.

Delia Vazquez (PI), Heather Flynn, Juan Lopez, Sheila Marcus, Susan McDonough, Niko Kaciroti, Arnold Sameroff, Brenda Volling, Timothy Johnson and Roseanne Armitage

Marcus, S., Vazquez, D., Lopez, J., Flynn, H., et al. (2011). Depressive symptoms during pregnancy: Impact on neuroendocrine and neonatal outcomes. Infant Behavior and Development, 34, 26-34.

Bonding between Mothers and Children study (BMAC)

BMAC is a longitudinal follow-up to the parent studies MACY and PIMAC and aims to follow these children of at-risk mothers into the preschool/school-entry age (ages 3-6 years). We assess child biological and behavioral risk markers, such as sleep and circadian cortisol, as well as mother’s ongoing psychiatric symptoms and life stress. 

Maria Muzik (PI), Delia Vazquez, Katherine Rosenblum, Juan Lopez, Sheila Marcus and Roseanne Armitage

Selected Publications

Hairston, I. S., Waxler, E., Seng, J. S., Fezzey, A. G., Rosenblum, K. L., & Muzik, M. (2011). The role of infant sleep in intergenerational transmission of trauma. Sleep: Journal of Sleep and Sleep Disorders Research, 34(10), 1373-1383.

Muzik, M., Heather G. Cameron, BS, Amanda Fezzey, BS, & Katherine L. Rosenblum, PhD. (2009). Motherhood in the Face of Trauma: PTSD in the Childbearing Year. Zero To Three Journal.

Seng JS, Rauch SM, Resnick H, Reed CD, King A, Low LK, McPherson M, Muzik M, Abelson J, Liberzon I. (2010) Exploring posttraumatic stress disorder symptom profile among pregnant women. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol. 31(3):176-187.

Vazquez, D., Neal, C., Paresh, P., Kaciroti, N., and Lopez, J. (2012) Regulation of corticoid and serotonin receptor brain system following early life exposure of glucocorticoids: Long term implications for the neurobiology of mood. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 37(3), 421-437.