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Baby's Grasp

Mechanistic links between maternal PTSD and early infant emotional development

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Mechanisms to
Biological and
Assessments of


Intergenerational Effects of Posttraumatic Symptoms

When you experience a trauma, it can impact your emotions, your body, and how you experience yourself and others. Trauma can include many things, but generally includes exposure to events that are unusually or especially frightening or horrible, such as witnessing death or experiencing serious injury or sexual violence. Experiencing many different traumas throughout your life can increase your risk for many negative health outcomes, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Cumulative trauma exposure is associated with increased risk of PTSD and women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD. Importantly, PTSD risk is intergenerational; children of mothers with PTS are more likely to have PTSD themselves. Despite intergenerational risk associated with PTSD, there remains little known about the impact of maternal PTSD on infant biological risk outcomes or clear pathways of risk and resilience that can be translated into treatment targets.

What is the study?

This longitudinal multimethod study will combine clinical interviews, behavioral tasks, psychophysiology methods, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to understand how maternal experiences and psychological symptoms relate to early parenting behavior and infant response to stress within the first year of life.

What are we measuring and how?

At each study time point (~6 weeks postpartum, ~4-6 months postpartum, and ~9 months postpartum), the study will collect several types of data:

  • Clinical: A clinician will do an interview asking about trauma, PTSD, MDD, and other physical and psychological symptoms at all 3 timepoints.

  • Behavioral: Mothers and their infants will attend an in person visit at our lab where they will engage in two behavioral interaction tasks, one that measures usual interactions and one that elicits temporary distress in infants in order to measure response to stress in both mothers and infants.

  • Neuroimaging: An MRI will occur at the 6 week visit that will examine neural activation to infant-related tasks.

  • Physiological/Stress Reactivity: Heart rate and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) will be measured on mothers and infants during behavioral task visits at all 3 timepoints. Cortisol will be collected on mothers and their infants before and after stressor tasks during the behavioral visits at all 3 timepoints.

Note: There are 3 visits that will occur in the 6-10 week time period: A clinical assessment, a behavioral visit, and an MRI visit. At 4-6 months and 9 months, there will be just one behavioral and clinical assessment visit.

Who are our participants?

If you are a mother (over 18 years old) with a full-term newborn (less than 10 weeks old) and have experienced trauma, you can fill out a referral form on our website ( Our desired sample will consist of 120 participants.

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