A prenatal programming perspective on the intergenerational transmission of maternal adverse childhood experiences to offspring health problems

Danielle S. Roubinov, Linda J. Luecken, Sarah G. Curci, Jennifer A. Somers, Laura K. Winstone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Decades of research indicate that individuals exposed to childhood adversity are at risk for poor physical and mental health across their life span. More recently, intergenerational transmission of trauma and prenatal programming frameworks suggest an even longer reach for adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), with consequences that extend to subsequent generations. Beyond the individual-level consequences typically observed by empirical studies of ACEs, mothers' experiences of early adversity may also compromise the maternal-child dyadic relationship. We propose a conceptual model whereby mothers' ACEs impact maternal-infant dyadic functioning and later biobehavioral health outcomes through heightened perinatal psychosocial risk. We provide support for the proposed paths and mechanistic processes in our model with data drawn from Las Madres Nuevas, a longitudinal study of low-income Mexican-origin families who participated in a series of home and laboratory visits from the prenatal period through early childhood. Higher ACEs exposure among Las Madres Nuevas participants was associated with numerous perinatal psychosocial risk factors, which predicted poorer mother-infant dyadic functioning. Compromised dyadic functioning during infancy was associated with later maternal mental health and child behavior problems. We conclude with discussion of prevention and treatment strategies that can buffer against proposed risk pathways, including perinatal assessment of maternal ACEs and psychosocial risk, perinatal treatment of maternal distress, and mother-infant therapy in the postpartum period. It is our hope that the proposed conceptual model will serve as a guide for future research to examine the lasting consequences of childhood adversities within and across generations among high-risk populations. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)337-349
Number of pages13
JournalThe American psychologist
Volume76
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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