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Despite recent emphasis on the profound importance of the fetal environment in “programming” postnatal development, measurement of offspring development typically begins after birth. Using a novel coding strategy combining direct fetal observation via ultrasound and actocardiography, we investigated the impact of maternal smoking during pregnancy (MSDP) on fetal neurobehavior; we also investigated links between fetal and infant neurobehavior. Participants were 90 pregnant mothers and their infants (52 MSDP-exposed; 51% minorities; ages 18–40). Fetal neurobehavior at baseline and in response to vibro-acoustic stimulus was assessed via ultrasound and actocardiography at M = 35 weeks gestation and coded via the Fetal Neurobehavioral Assessment System (FENS). After delivery, the NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale was administered up to seven times over the first postnatal month. MSDP was associated with increased fetal activity and fetal limb movements. Fetal activity, complex body movements, and cardiac–somatic coupling were associated with infants' ability to attend to stimuli and to self-regulate over the first postnatal month. Furthermore, differential associations emerged by MSDP group between fetal activity, complex body movements, quality of movement, and coupling, and infant attention and self-regulation. The present study adds to a growing literature establishing the validity of fetal neurobehavioral measures in elucidating fetal programming pathways.
Research suggests that early adversity places individuals at risk for psychopathology across the life span. Guided by concepts of allostasis and allostatic load, the present study examined whether early adversity contributes to the development of subsequent internalizing symptoms through its association with traitlike individual differences in hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis regulation. Early adolescent girls (n = 113; M age = 12.30 years) provided saliva samples at waking, 30 min postwaking, and bedtime over 3 days (later assayed for cortisol). Objective contextual stress interviews with adolescents and their mothers were used to assess the accumulation of nine types of early adversity within the family environment. Greater early adversity predicted subsequent increases in internalizing symptoms through lower levels of latent trait cortisol. Traitlike individual differences in hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis activity may be among the mechanisms through which early adversity confers risk for the development of psychopathology.
Childhood adversity (CA) is known to predict sensitization to proximal stressors. Researchers have suggested that disruptions in hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal axis functioning may be a biological mechanism. If so, CA may predict altered associations between proximal life stress and markers of cortisol secretion. We examined whether CA moderates associations between recent episodic stress and (a) the cortisol awakening response (CAR), and (b) depressive symptoms, in 241 adolescents aged 14–17 years (cortisol n = 196). Salivary cortisol was sampled at 0, 30, and 60 min postawakening for 2 days. The CAR was calculated as the area under the curve with respect to increase and waking cortisol. CA and episodic stress were assessed using contextual-threat-method-coded objective interviews. CA significantly interacted with episodic stress to predict both the CAR and depression. Among those with low CA, episodic stress predicted increased CAR but did not predict depression. For adolescents with high CA, episodic stress predicted lower CAR and higher depression. These interactions were found only for independent (uncontrollable, fateful) events, and not for dependent (self-generated) stress. Increased allostatic load resulting from CA exposure may interfere with adolescents' ability to optimally regulate their CAR in relation to recent stress, contributing to increased depression risk.