Prenatal Material Hardships and Infant Regulatory Capacity at 10 Months Old in Low-Income Hispanic Mother-Infant Pairs
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Prenatal maternal stresses have been associated with infant temperament patterns linked to later behavioral difficulties. Material hardships, defined as inability to meet basic needs, are important prenatal stressors. Our objective was to determine the associations between prenatal material hardships and infant temperament at 10 months.
This was a longitudinal study of mother-infant pairs in a randomized controlled trial of a primary care-based early obesity prevention program (Starting Early). Independent variables representing material hardship were: housing disrepair, food insecurity, difficulty paying bills, and neighborhood stress (neighborhood safety). Dependent variables representing infant temperament were assessed using questions from 3 subscales of the Infant Behavior Questionnaire: orienting/regulatory capacity, negative affect, and surgency/extraversion. We used linear regression to investigate associations between individual and cumulative hardships and each temperament domain, adjusting for confounders, and testing for depression as a moderator.
Four hundred twelve mother-infant pairs completed 10-month assessments. Thirty-two percent reported food insecurity, 26% difficulty paying bills, 35% housing disrepair, and 9% neighborhood stress. In adjusted analyses, food insecurity was associated with lower orienting/regulatory capacity scores (β = -0.25; 95% confidence interval [CI], -0.47 to -0.04), as were neighborhood stress (β = -0.50; 95% CI, -0.83 to -0.16) and experiencing 3 to 4 hardships (compared with none; β = -0.54; 95% CI, -0.83 to -0.21). For neighborhood stress, the association was stronger among infants of mothers with prenatal depressive symptoms (interaction term P = .06).
Prenatal material hardships were associated with lower orienting/regulatory capacity. These findings support the need for further research exploring how temperament relates to child behavior, and for policies to reduce prenatal material hardships.