Prenatal anxiety, maternal stroking in infancy, and symptoms of emotional and behavioral disorders at 3.5 years

Andrew Pickles, Helen Sharp, Jennifer Hellier, Jonathan Hill*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)
155 Downloads (Pure)


Animal findings of long-term effects of maternal behaviors mediated via altered GR gene expression will, if translated into humans, have far reaching implications for our understanding of child and adolescent psychopathology. We have previously shown that mothers’ self-reported stroking of their infants modifies associations between prenatal depression and anxiety and child outcomes at 29 weeks and 2.5 years. Here, we examine whether the effect of early maternal stroking is evident at 3.5 years, and in a much larger sample than in previous publications. A general population sample of 1233 first-time mothers completed anxiety measures at 20 weeks gestation, 865 reported on infant stroking at 9 weeks, and 813 on child symptoms at 3.5 years. Maternal stroking moderated the association between pregnancy-specific anxiety and internalizing (p = 0.010) and externalizing (p = 0.004) scores, such that an effect of PSA to increase symptoms was markedly reduced for mothers who reported high levels of stroking. There was no effect of maternal stroking on general anxiety. The findings confirm the previously reported effect of maternal stroking, and in a much larger sample. They indicate that there are long-term effects of early maternal stroking, modifying associations between prenatal anxiety and child emotional and behavioral symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalEuropean child & adolescent psychiatry
Early online date27 Jul 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Jul 2016


  • Behavioral disorders
  • Emotional
  • Epigenetics
  • Fetal programing
  • Prenatal anxiety
  • Tactile stimulation


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