Maternal Stress From Superstorm Sandy Affected Babies

Superstorm Sandy had lasting effects on the emotions and behavior of infants whose families experienced storm-related hardships, according to a study of 380 pairs of mothers and babies. Doctoral candidate Jessica Buthmann and Professor Yoko Nomura (Queens College, The Graduate Center, CUNY) published their findings in Child Psychiatry & Human Development.

Sandy made landfall in New York City on Oct. 29, 2012, destroying homes and killing more than 50 people. Many areas lost electric power for days. Subway lines shut down and gasoline was in short supply. Buthmann and Nomura’s study looked at babies born directly before, during and after the storm. The more “disaster-related stress” their families experienced (like loss of phone service or electricity), the more negative emotions the babies exhibited at 6 months of age, compared to babies exposed to less stress.

“Our study supports existing research findings that maternal psychosocial and disaster-related stress can negatively impact optimal development in offspring,” said Buthmann.

The authors found that the longer a family went without phone service or electricity, the more distress, fear, and sadness was observed in the babies. Financial hardship had an impact as well. When families faced financial loss or threat of death or injury, infants were less able to regulate their emotions, meaning they scored low on cuddliness, soothability, and pleasure seeking.

Fetuses are sensitive to maternal anxiety and depression. The stress hormone cortisol readily crosses the placenta. Similarly, a stressful environment in the months after birth can lead to high levels of cortisol in an infant, and has been shown to contribute to poor emotional regulation.

This early exposure to stress may predispose children to emotional issues later in life. The authors advocate for increasing awareness that disaster-related stress may have a negative impact on infant temperament. Mental health services and other support for expectant mothers and mothers with young children could help reduce the impact of disasters.

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“Infant Temperament: Repercussions of Superstorm Sandy-Related Maternal Stress”

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Jessica Buthmann (Doctoral candidate) | Profile 1
Yoko Nomura (Professor, Psychology) | Profile 1 | Profile 2

Colleges and Schools
Queens College
The Graduate Center

Bonus Content
“Newborns Have Lasting Effects of Superstorm Sandy” (GC News)
“Effects of Climate Change Could See Increased Rates Of Childhood Anxiety” (Theravive)

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