The association between maternal interaction and infant cortisol stress reactivity among preterm and full term infants at 4 months adjusted age.

Document Type


Publication Date



The purpose of this study was to assess the association between maternal interactive behavior and infant cortisol stress reactivity in response to the Still Face paradigm (SF) in a cohort of four-month old infants (adjusted age) born preterm (gestation, N = 22) compared with infants born full term (>37 weeks gestation, N = 28). Infant cortisol reactivity was calculated as area under the curve (AUC) from baseline to the third cortisol sample (30 min post-SF) using the trapezoidal rule, while the percent of time mothers spent using a contingent interaction style was measured (0-100%) during episodes 1 (Play; baseline), 3 (Reunion#1), and 5 (Reunion#2) while mother-infant dyads participated in the SF paradigm. We hypothesized that because infants born preterm are at increased risk for dysregulation, they would show, compared to full-term infants, a blunted stress response, involving under-responsiveness. We found blunted cortisol stress reactivity among the preterm infants. We also found that mothers of preterm infants demonstrated less contingent maternal interaction during Renion#1 of the SF; and that contingent maternal interaction at Reunion#2 of the SF was protective against cortisol stress reactivity in response to the SF. However, we did not find that the influence of maternal interaction on cortisol reactivity was moderated by gestational age group (full term vs preterm): the association between contingent maternal interaction and stress reactivity was similar for both gestational groups across episodes. In order to improve self-regulation and longer term social and cognitive developmental outcomes in medically at-risk infants, future research is warranted to determine how these findings relate to infants' stress reactions in naturalistic settings, and the directionality and temporal relationship between cortisol stress responses and maternal interactive behavior.

Publication Title

Infant Behav Dev





First Page


Last Page