Developmental origins of infant stress reactivity profiles: A multi-system approach

Dev Psychobiol. 2016 Jul;58(5):578-99. doi: 10.1002/dev.21403. Epub 2016 Mar 8.


Background: This study tested the hypothesis that maternal physiological and psychological variables during pregnancy discriminate between theoretically informed infant stress reactivity profiles.

Methods: The sample comprised 254 women and their infants. Maternal mood, salivary cortisol, respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), and salivary α-amylase (sAA) were assessed at 15 and 32 weeks gestational age. Infant salivary cortisol, RSA, and sAA reactivity were assessed in response to a structured laboratory frustration task at 6 months of age. Infant responses were used to classify them into stress reactivity profiles using three different classification schemes: hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA)-axis, autonomic, and multi-system. Discriminant function analyses evaluated the prenatal variables that best discriminated infant reactivity profiles within each classification scheme.

Results: Maternal stress biomarkers, along with self-reported psychological distress during pregnancy, discriminated between infant stress reactivity profiles.

Conclusions: These results suggest that maternal psychological and physiological states during pregnancy have broad effects on the development of the infant stress response systems. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Dev Psychobiol 58: 578-599, 2016.

Keywords: fetal programming; psychological distress; respiratory sinus arrhythmia; salivary cortisol; salivary α-amylase; stress reactivity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Biomarkers
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology*
  • Infant
  • Infant Behavior / classification*
  • Infant Behavior / physiology
  • Infant Behavior / psychology
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / metabolism
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology*
  • Pregnancy / metabolism
  • Pregnancy / physiology*
  • Pregnancy / psychology
  • Pregnancy Complications* / metabolism
  • Pregnancy Complications* / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy Complications* / psychology
  • Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological* / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological* / physiopathology
  • Stress, Psychological* / psychology
  • alpha-Amylases / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • alpha-Amylases
  • Hydrocortisone

Grant support