Prenatal neural responses to infant faces predict postpartum reflective functioning

Academic Article


  • © 2018 Elsevier Inc. Pregnancy is shaped by unfolding psychological and biological changes in preparation for parenthood. A growing literature has examined the postpartum maternal brain. However, few studies examine the maternal brain during pregnancy, and whether brain function in pregnancy may have implications for postpartum caregiving. Using event-related potentials, we examined the late positive potential (LPP) elicited by infant distress and neutral faces in 35 women during their third trimester of pregnancy. Then, at 3 months postpartum, mothers completed a measure of parental reflective functioning to capture how they regarded their capacity to consider their child's thoughts and feelings. We found that in the third trimester, infant distress faces elicited larger LPPs compared to infant neutral faces. Moreover, the LPP elicited by infant neutral faces predicted levels of postpartum reflective functioning. Specifically, a larger LPP elicited by neutral infant faces predicted greater maternal self-reported difficulty recognizing and understanding their own infant's thoughts and feelings. Our findings suggest that studying the pregnant brain may have predictive value for facets of postpartum caregiving and may inform clinical interventions with new mothers.
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    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Rutherford HJV; Crowley MJ; Gao L; Francis B; Schultheis A; Mayes LC
  • Start Page

  • 43
  • End Page

  • 48
  • Volume

  • 53