Effects of prenatal psychosocial stress and COVID-19 infection on infant attention and socioemotional development

Denise M. Werchan, Cassandra L. Hendrix, Amy M. Hume, Margaret Zhang, Moriah E. Thomason, Natalie H. Brito

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically altered the psychosocial environment of pregnant women and new mothers. In addition, prenatal infection is a known risk factor for altered fetal development. Here we examine joint effects of maternal psychosocial stress and COVID-19 infection during pregnancy on infant attention at 6 months postpartum. Method: One-hundred and sixty-seven pregnant mothers and infants (40% non-White; n = 71 females) were recruited in New York City (n = 50 COVID+, n = 117 COVID–). Infants’ attentional processing was assessed at 6 months, and socioemotional function and neurodevelopmental risk were evaluated at 12 months. Results: Maternal psychosocial stress and COVID-19 infection during pregnancy jointly predicted infant attention at 6 months. In mothers reporting positive COVID-19 infection, higher prenatal psychosocial stress was associated with lower infant attention at 6 months. Exploratory analyses indicated that infant attention in turn predicted socioemotional function and neurodevelopmental risk at 12 months. Conclusions: These data suggest that maternal psychosocial stress and COVID-19 infection during pregnancy may have joint effects on infant attention at 6 months. This work adds to a growing literature on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on infant development, and may point to maternal psychosocial stress as an important target for intervention. Impact: This study found that elevated maternal psychosocial stress and COVID-19 infection during pregnancy jointly predicted lower infant attention scores at 6 months, which is a known marker of risk for neurodevelopmental disorder. In turn, infant attention predicted socioemotional function and risk for neurodevelopmental disorder at 12 months. These data suggest that maternal psychosocial stress may modulate the effects of gestational infection on neurodevelopment and highlight malleable targets for intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPediatric Research
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health

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