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Prenatal and postnatal intimate partner violence, depression, and infant-mother touch

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2022

This study examines the effects of intimate partner violence (IPV) and maternal depression on infant-led touch interactions and maternal touch responses.


The results of this study examining the effects of intimate partner violence (IPV) and maternal depression on infant-led touch interactions and maternal touch responses suggest that male infant touch behavior is particularly susceptible to prenatal or postnatal exposure to IPV. Importantly, aggressive behavior in early childhood predicts more aggressive behavior across time, and these early negative touch behaviors may be indicative of the beginning of a trajectory of increased physical aggression into childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Moreover, the results support extant findings that prenatal life is a sensitive period for postnatal development, including postnatal socially interactive behavior. Finally, depressed mothers of male infants exhibited decreased touch responsiveness, suggesting that depression may alter maternal interpretation of male infant cues, resulting in maternal withdrawal. Touch is a primary form of communication for mother-infant dyads in the infant’s first year of life. Stressors such as intimate partner violence (IPV) and maternal depression experienced during the perinatal period may interfere with mother-infant touch via prenatal programming of the stress response and disrupted parenting. Mother-infant touch research typically focuses on maternal touch, while research on infant touch is limited. However, research suggests that infants sometimes lead interactive behavior, with mothers responding and adapting to their infants. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to examine the effects of IPV and maternal depression on infant-led touch interactions and maternal touch responses. Touch behaviors were coded in 174 mother-infant dyads while they engaged in a free play. ANCOVA analyses indicated that male infants with pre- or postnatal IPV exposure initiated more negative touch (e.g., hitting, kicking, pushing) with their mothers than female or nonexposed male infants. IPV did not predict differences in maternal touch responses to infants, while postpartum depressive symptoms were associated with maternal decreased touch responsiveness to male infant touch.

Date Published: May 1, 2022