A Look into the Effects of Prenatal Substance Use Exposure on Developing Infants

Students: Cindy Huynh and Mollie Marshall
Mentor: Kira Bailey (OWU Neuroscience Program and Department of Psychology)

We are studying the neurobehavioral and developmental effects of methamphetamine (MA) on infants. More specifically, we are focusing on how maternal MA abuse, which is often used among depressed mothers, affects infant mental health, temperament, and development. If a mother’s history of substance abuse and/or mental health do negatively impact the infant, then it is necessary to develop and implement early intervention methods in order to protect those exposed infants.

Substance use is one of many risk factors that contribute to their infant’s development, along with maternal depression, parental psychopathology, and the external environment. Women of childbearing age in the United States and New Zealand are among the increasing number of people who abuse methamphetamines (MA). Mothers who abuse MA are often also depressed, which is related to poor parenting behaviors and linked to changes in infant social behavior and temperament, a biologically based set of behavioral tendencies that influence how the infant will approach, respond to, and interact with the social world. Research has shown parental depression negatively impacts cognitive, motor, emotional, and social development. The current study further examines how a mother’s history of substance abuse and/or psychopathology may impact infant health, temperament, and development. The study analyzes questionnaires and assessments from 234 mother-infant pairs in the NZ Infant Development, Environment, and Lifestyle Study. Of this sample, 106 mothers reported MA use during pregnancy and 115 denied MA use during pregnancy. Their substance use was compared with maternal report questionnaires—Brief Symptom Inventory, Beck Depression Inventory, and Infant Behavior Questionnaire—which measured maternal psychopathology, depression, and infant temperament. In addition, the results of the NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale, Bayley Scales of Infant Development, and Strange Situation assessments were compared to standardized scales to determine infant behavior and attachment. The results from the maternal questionnaires were compared to the infant assessments to ascertain the effects of maternal substance abuse and/or psychopathology on infant mental health. The study points to the importance of early intervention and enhancing protective factors in multi-risk families.