Preconception maternal posttraumatic stress and child negative affectivity: Prospectively evaluating the intergenerational impact of trauma


The developmental origins of psychopathology begin before birth and perhaps even prior to conception. Understanding the intergenerational transmission of psychopathological risk is critical to identify sensitive windows for prevention and early intervention. Prior research demonstrates that maternal trauma history, typically assessed retrospectively, has adverse consequences for child socioemotional development. However, very few prospective studies of preconception trauma exist, and the role of preconception symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) remains unknown. The current study prospectively evaluates whether maternal preconception PTSD symptoms predict early childhood negative affectivity, a key dimension of temperament and predictor of later psychopathology. One hundred and eighteen women were recruited following a birth and prior to conception of the study child and were followed until the study child was 3-5 years old. Higher maternal PTSD symptoms prior to conception predicted greater child negative affectivity, adjusting for concurrent maternal depressive symptoms and sociodemographic covariates. In exploratory analyses, we found that neither maternal prenatal nor postpartum depressive symptoms or perceived stress mediated this association. These findings add to a limited prospective literature, highlighting the importance of assessing the mental health of women prior to conception and providing interventions that can disrupt the intergenerational sequelae of trauma.

intergenerational transmission, negative affectivity, preconception, PTSD, trauma