Objective: To examine associations of maternal lifetime trauma and related psychological symptoms in the perinatal period with infant cardiorespiratory reactivity and behavioral distress in response to a laboratory stressor, using a novel advanced system recently adapted for infants. Methods: Participants were mothers and their 6-month-old infants. Assessments included mothers' self-reported lifetime exposure to trauma, perinatal traumatic stress, and current symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Through the use of a noninvasive respiratory inductance plethysmography device, heart rate and indices of respiratory volume, timing, and thoracoabdominal coordination were recorded continuously in 23 infants during the Still-Face Paradigm, a videotaped mother-infant dyadic assessment that included baseline, stressor, and recovery phases. Infant behavioral distress during the procedure was also assessed. Results: Infants of mothers with low exposure to trauma and perinatal traumatic stress showed expected increases in behavioral distress and cardiorespiratory activation from baseline to stressor and decreases in these parameters from stressor to recovery. Infants of mothers exposed to multiple traumas and with elevated perinatal traumatic stress showed similar patterns of activation from baseline to stressor but failed to show decreases during recovery. These patterns were maintained after controlling for current maternal PTSD and depressive symptoms. Conclusions: Maternal lifetime trauma exposure and traumatic stress during the perinatal period were associated with disrupted infant cardiorespiratory regulation and behavioral distress during a stressor protocol. These results support the concept of perinatal programming and its potential role in physical and mental health outcomes.
- Autonomic reactivity
- Perinatal programming