Experiential and hormonal correlates of maternal behavior in teen and adult mothers Academic Article uri icon

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  • This study explores the role of cortisol and early life experiences in the regulation of maternal behavior and mood in teen and adult mothers. Primiparous mothers (n=119) (teen mothers < 19 years, n=42), young mothers (19-25 years, n= 4), and mature mothers, (>25 years, n=43) were assessed for their maternal behavior, mood, and hormonal profile at approximately 6 weeks postpartum. Outcome measures were analyzed as a function of age and early life experience. Results showed an interaction between age and type of maternal behavior, where teen mothers engaged in more instrumental (e.g. changing diapers, adjusting clothes) less affectionate (e.g., stroking, kissing, patting) behavior, and mature mothers engaged in more affectionate and less instrumental behavior. When groups were reassessed based on early life experience (consistency of care during the first 12 years of life: consistent care; having at least one consistent caregiver, inconsistent care; having multiple and changing caregivers), an interaction was also found between consistency of care and type of behavior shown, where mothers who received inconsistent care engaged in more instrumental and less affectionate behavior. Compared to mature mothers, teen mothers who were breast feeding also had higher salivary cortisol levels, and high cortisol in teen mothers related to decreased fatigue and increased energy. These results suggest that early life experiences are linked to mothering behavior and are consistent with the emerging human and animal literature on intergenerational effects of mothering style.


  • Krpan, Katherine M
  • Coombs, Rosemarie
  • Zinga, Dawn
  • Steiner, Meir
  • Fleming, Alison S

publication date

  • January 2005