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Maternal behavior predicts infant cortisol recovery from a mild everyday stressor

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In the very first years of life, parenting is considered to be important for the regulation of the infant's emotional and physiological states. In the present study, three-month-old infants’ cortisol responses (reactivity and recovery) to a mild everyday stressor, namely being taken out of the bath, were examined in relation to the quality of maternal behavior. It was hypothesized that a higher quality of maternal behavior towards the infant predicted lower cortisol reactivity as well as a better recovery from the reaction. Method: 

The participants were 64 infants (34 boys and 30 girls) and their mothers. Maternal behavior (sensitivity and cooperation) towards the infant during the bathing routine was rated from videotapes. Salivary cortisol was obtained from the infants three times: before the bathing routine (T1), and 25 minutes (T2) and 40 minutes (T3) after the infants were taken out of the bath. Results: 

The infants reacted with a significant increase in cortisol to the stressor (from 6.8 nmol/l to 9.9 nmol/l), and regression analysis showed that the higher the quality of maternal behavior the better the cortisol recovery from the stressor. Conclusion: 

Our findings indicate the potential importance of social processes for physiological recovery from everyday stressful situations in infants.
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Keywords: Cortisol; infants; maternal behavior; reactivity; recovery; stress

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Developmental Psychology, Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands 2: Department of Chemical Endocrinology, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Publication date: January 1, 2008

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