Community criminal justice supervised mothers are an underserved population who experience high rates of psychological distress and unique parenting challenges, but little is known about physiological stress system function in this population.
We tested the salivary biomarkers of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis function as predictors of subjective maternal stress.
We recruited 23 mothers (age: M = 35.6 years, SD = 9.3 years; 35% Hispanic, 22% Black, 22% White, 22% multiracial) who were court mandated to a residential treatment center. We measured salivary alpha-amylase (AA) and cortisol, which index SNS and HPA activity, respectively, before and after a naturalistic reminder of a stressful parenting experience. We assessed self-reported parenting stress using the Parenting Stress Index–Short Form (PSI-SF) subscales Parental Distress, Parent–Child Dysfunctional Interactions, and Difficult Child. We used regression to test AA and cortisol mean levels and reactivity as predictors of subscale scores.
Mean, but not reactive, salivary stress biomarker levels were associated with parenting stress domains. Mean cortisol levels predicted scores on the Parent–Child Dysfunctional Interaction subscale (adj. R 2 = .48), whereas mean AA predicted Difficult Child subscale scores (adj. R 2 = .28).
Our results demonstrate the potential predictive utility of AA and cortisol as salivary biomarkers of maternal stress in community-supervised mothers. Given that maternal stress is associated with criminal recidivism and child behavioral health in this population, these biomarkers could potentially inform interventions to improve dyadic health and social outcomes.
Jenna K. Rieder, BA, is Research Assistant, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York, NY.
Lorie S. Goshin, PhD, RN, is Assistant Professor; and D.R. Gina Sissoko, BA, is Research Assistant, Hunter College, The City University of New York, NY.
Olena Kleshchova, MS, is Research Assistant, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York, NY.
Mariann R. Weierich, PhD, is Associate Professor, Hunter College, The City University of New York, NY.
Accepted for publication August 20, 2018.
This research was supported by a grant from the Weill Cornell Medical College Clinical and Translational Sciences Center (UL1 TR000457-06, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health, Imperato-McGinley, PI). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
This study was approved by the City University of New York Integrated Institutional Review Board.
The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.
Corresponding author: Lorie S. Goshin, PhD, RN, Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing, Hunter College, 425 East 25th Street Box 905, New York, NY 10010 (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).