Evidence shows that maternal stress exposure during pregnancy can have enduring effects on offspring emotion regulation (ER), a transdiagnostic factor underlying the development of psychopathology. Although low-income and minority race women are more likely to experience daily recurring stressors, significant variability exists in the way individuals respond to stressors during pregnancy. Few studies have focused on identifying modifiable, protective factors during pregnancy that explain these individual differences, a critical step to informing preventative interventions. Guided by resilience theories, this study takes a daily-life approach to investigate the prospective association between maternal stress regulation during pregnancy and infant ER. The central hypothesis is that day-to-day fluctuations in prenatal psychosocial resources (social support, self-efficacy) will have a protective influence on daily maternal stress regulation during pregnancy (Aim 1) that, in turn, shapes infant ER outcomes (Aim 2). The study will recruit pregnant participants (N=90) with a history of chronic stress from the Pittsburgh Girls Study (ECHO-PGS; UH3OD023244), a longitudinal cohort of women currently aged 24-27 (71% Black; 79% low-income) who have been assessed annually since childhood. Participants will complete a prenatal lab visit, 10 days of ambulatory data collection, and a postnatal lab visit when their infant is 6-months old. This study will leverage available prenatal and infant data from the ECHO-PGS while adding state-of-the-art ambulatory measures (smartphone, wearable biosensing devices) to measure real-world changes in daily stressful events, stress regulation, and psychosocial resources during pregnancy, in addition to adding new physiological measures of ER in infancy. Dr. Tung, the award candidate, is a developmental psychopathologist with significant experience conducting longitudinal research in the lab- setting from middle childhood through early adulthood. In this K01, the candidate will gain targeted conceptual and methodological training in: (1) ER during infancy, when regulatory processes are emerging and sensitive to stress transmission, (2) ambulatory measures of daily prenatal stress regulation outside the lab setting, and (3) advanced statistical approaches for intensive longitudinal data. Dr. Tung?s mentors (Drs. Hipwell, Low, and Smyth) and consultants (Drs. Fox and Krafty) are ideally suited to guide the candidate?s training given their combined expertise in the fields of prenatal stress, infant affective and physiological regulation, ambulatory assessment, and intensive longitudinal data analytics. As a leading research institution, the University of Pittsburgh Department of Psychiatry is an optimal scientific training environment to meet these career development goals. The proposed K01 is the first step in a larger program of independent research that will focus on prenatal stress and resilience factors underlying transdiagnostic vulnerability to psychopathology. This line of work has the potential to advance the field by elucidating resilience processes during sensitive windows of development to inform early preventative interventions.

Public Health Relevance

High levels of prenatal stress exposure can have long-lasting effects on infants? abilities to regulate their emotions. Because early problems with emotion regulation increase risk for a wide range of later psychological disorders, identifying factors that protect mothers and their infants from the negative effects of stress during pregnancy is a public health priority. This proposed project, a first step to informing early prenatal prevention of psychological disorders, will provide information about how pregnant women?s day-to-day fluctuations in stressful and positive experiences influence infant outcomes in emotion regulation, particularly among mothers exposed to high levels of chronic stress.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Scientist Development Award - Research & Training (K01)
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Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
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Bechtholt, Anita J
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University of Pittsburgh
Schools of Medicine
United States
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