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The Effects of Prenatal Maternal Stress on Early Temperament

The 2011 Queensland Flood Study

Simcock, Gabrielle, PhD*,†; Elgbeili, Guillaume, Masters; Laplante, David P., PhD; Kildea, Sue, PhD*,§; Cobham, Vanessa, PhD*,†; Stapleton, Helen, PhD*,§; Austin, Marie-Paule, PhD; Brunet, Alain, PhD; King, Suzanne, PhD‡,¶

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: June 2017 - Volume 38 - Issue 5 - p 310–321
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000444
Original Articles
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Objective: This study examined the effects of disaster-related prenatal maternal stress on infant temperament and whether the sex of the infant or the timing of the stressor in pregnancy would moderate the effects.

Methods: Mothers' objective experiences of a sudden-onset flood in Queensland, Australia, their subjective emotional reactions, and cognitive appraisal of the event were assessed. At 6 months postpartum, 121 mothers reported their infant's temperament on the 5 dimensions of the Short Temperament Scale for Infants.

Results: When controlling for postnatal maternal factors, subjective prenatal maternal stress and cognitive appraisal of the disaster were associated with easier aspects of infant temperament. However, several interesting interactions emerged showing negative effects of the flood. With higher levels of objective hardship in pregnancy, boys (but not girls) received more irritable temperament ratings. When the flood occurred early in pregnancy, higher levels of objective hardship predicted more arrhythmic infant temperament. Finally, mothers whose emotional response to the flood exceeded the hardship they endured reported significantly more active-reactive infants.

Conclusion: Prenatal maternal stress from a natural disaster predicted more difficult temperament ratings that were moderated by infant sex, timing of the flood in gestation, and mother's emotional response to the disaster.

*Mater Research Institute-The University of Queensland (UQ), Brisbane, Queensland, Australia;

School of Psychology, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia;

Schizophrenia and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Research, Douglas Mental Health Research Institute, Verdun, QC, Canada;

§School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia;

School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales and St John of God Health Care, Sydney, Australia;

Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada.

Address for reprints: Suzanne King, PhD, McGill University, Douglas Mental Health University Institute, Verdun, Québec H4H 1R3, Canada; e-mail:

Funding was provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CHIR grant # MOP-1150067).

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

See related Commentary on page 347.

Received September 01, 2016

Accepted March 24, 2017

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