Amanda Skofstad | August 17, 2018
Babies whose mothers experience interpersonal violence during pregnancy are more likely to exhibit aggression and defiance toward their mothers in toddlerhood, according to new research by Laura Miller-Graff, assistant professor of psychology and peace studies, and Jennifer Burke Lefever, managing director of the William J. Shaw Center for Children and Families, both at the University of Notre Dame.
While it is fairly well-known that pregnant women have an elevated risk for domestic violence, much of the associated research focuses on the negative impact of that violence on pregnancy, labor and delivery. Miller-Graff and Lefever’s study, co-published with Amy Nuttall in The International Journal of Behavioral Development, examines the short- and long-term impact of prenatal violence (regardless of perpetrator) on children’s later adjustment outcomes. Nuttall earned her doctorate at Notre Dame in 2015 and is currently assistant professor of human development and family studies at Michigan State University.
“We wanted to map out how the impact of violence cascades over time,” Miller-Graff said. “Prenatal violence primarily affects kids via how it affects the mother.”
“Research has shown that many mothers who live in domestic violence situations have pretty strong parenting skills, but when violence affects their mental health, parenting can become more difficult as well. Infancy and early toddlerhood are key times for learning some of the core emotion regulation skills — so if moms struggle, kids struggle.”
Miller-Graff said the harmful impact of violence during pregnancy is profound and long-lasting, with discernible effects on the child as far out as 2 years old, even though the initial exposure is indirect.
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