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Pregnancy represents a critical life stage for its physical and emotional changes. Maternal thoughts are often oriented to the worry to lose control on their body, and to their new physical shape. According to this, literature on eating disorder (ED) highlights how pregnancy is usually associated to a temporary interruption of the dysfunctional eating habits due to the move of concerns about the self and the body toward the caregiving of the baby.
The goal of the present study is to explore the impact of generalized difficulties in emotion regulation (as a stable trait) versus specific difficulties in emotion regulation (as pregnancy-related) in women with pre-pregnancy eating problems.
The sample is made by 15 women previously overweight and recruited during their 3<sup>rd</sup> trimester of pregnancy. The following measures were administered: Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale (DERS), Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26), Emotional Difficulties Specific to Pregnancy Scale (EDS), and the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI).
Preliminary findings have shown how higher scores on the DERS Impulse scale as well as higher difficulties in handling emotional states related to pregnancy (e.g. fear of the delivery) are associated to the existence of dysfunctional eating behaviors during the 3rd trimester.
Emotion regulation has emerged as a transversal skill during the life cycle. Difficulties in this area seem to represent a stable trait in the individual functioning, with the risk to affect the eating behaviors, as well as the health of the mother and the baby during pregnancy.
Maternal depressive risk has been linked to several dysfunctional outcomes. Empirical data indicate that the lack of adequate maternal responses over feeding may affect the quality of the early eating habits of the baby. Such a conclusion, however, is mainly based on cross-sectional research, which does not allow to establish causality.
The aim of the study was to explore in a longitudinal way the link between pre-partum depression and subsequent mother-child feeding interactions.
Participants were 64 women who voluntarily agreed to take part in the study. During their 3rd trimester of pregnancy, all completed a number of self-report instruments, including the CES–Depression scale (CES-D) and Multidimensional Scale for Perceived Social Support (MSPSS). Seven months after the delivery, mother-child dyads were videotaped during a meal session, and the Feeding Observational Scale (FS) was used so as to rate the quality of the feeding interactions.
During pregnancy, the CES-D negatively correlated with the MSPSS, r = -.32, p = .01. For three of the FS scales, the quality of the dyadic feeding interactions at seven months of age of the baby was significantly predicted by the CES-D, β ≥ .30, p < .05, but not by the MSPSS. In contrast, one of the FS scales was significantly predicted only by the MSPSS, β = -.29, p < .05, but not by the CES-D.
Clinical screening during pregnancy may help preventing the establishment of early dysfunctional eating behaviors, by identifying early risk factors for dysfunctional feeding interactions.
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