Developmental Cascades Link Maternal–Newborn Skin-to-Skin Contact with Young Adults’ Psychological Symptoms, Oxytocin, and Immunity; Charting Mechanisms of Developmental Continuity from Birth to Adulthood

Adi Ulmer-Yaniv, Karen Yirmiya, Itai Peleg, Orna Zagoory-Sharon, Ruth Feldman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Premature birth disrupts the continuity of maternal–newborn bodily contact, which underpins the development of physiological and behavioral support systems. Utilizing a unique cohort of mother–preterm dyads who received skin-to-skin contact (Kangaroo Care, KC) versus controls, and following them to adulthood, we examined how a touch-based neonatal intervention impacts three adult outcomes; anxiety/depressive symptoms, oxytocin, and secretory immunoglobulin A (s-IgA), a biomarker of the immune system. Consistent with dynamic systems’ theory, we found that links from KC to adult outcomes were indirect, mediated by its effects on maternal mood, child attention and executive functions, and mother–child synchrony across development. These improvements shaped adult outcomes via three mechanisms; (a) “sensitive periods”, where the infancy improvement directly links with an outcome, for instance, infant attention linked with higher oxytocin and lower s-IgA; (b) “step-by-step continuity”, where the infancy improvement triggers iterative changes across development, gradually shaping an outcome; for instance, mother–infant synchrony was stable across development and predicted lower anxiety/depressive symptoms; and (c) “inclusive mutual-influences”, describing cross-time associations between maternal, child, and dyadic factors; for instance, from maternal mood to child executive functions and back. Findings highlight the long-term impact of a birth intervention across development and provide valuable insights on the mechanisms of “developmental continuity”, among the key topics in developmental research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number847
JournalBiology
Volume12
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - 13 Jun 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the authors.

Keywords

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • kangaroo care
  • mother–child synchrony
  • oxytocin
  • preterm
  • secretory IgA

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