Pediatr Res. 2021 Dec 16:10.1038/s41390-021-01894-9. doi: 10.1038/s41390-021-01894-9. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: This study examined the relationship between prenatal maternal stress (PREMS) and non-nutritive suck (NNS) and tested its robustness across 2 demographically diverse populations.
METHODS: The study involved 2 prospective birth cohorts participating in the national Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program: Illinois Kids Development Study (IKIDS) and ECHO Puerto Rico (ECHO-PROTECT). PREMS was measured during late pregnancy via the 10-item Perceived Stress Scale (PSS-10). NNS was sampled from 1- to 8-week-olds using a custom pacifier for ~5 min.
RESULTS: Overall, 237 mother-infant dyads completed this study. Despite several significant differences, including race/ethnicity, income, education, and PREMS levels, significant PREMS-NNS associations were found in the 2 cohorts. In adjusted linear regression models, higher PREMS, measured through PSS-10 total scores, related to fewer but longer NNS bursts per minute.
CONCLUSIONS: A significant association was observed between PREMS and NNS across two diverse cohorts. This finding is important as it may enable the earlier detection of exposure-related deficits and, as a result, earlier intervention, which potentially can optimize outcomes. More research is needed to understand how NNS affects children’s neurofunction and development.
IMPACT: In this double-cohort study, we found that higher maternal perceived stress assessed in late pregnancy was significantly associated with fewer but longer sucking bursts in 1- to 8-week-old infants. This is the first study investigating the association between prenatal maternal stress (PREMS) and infant non-nutritive suck (NNS), an early indicator of central nervous system integrity. Non-nutritive suck is a potential marker of increased prenatal stress in diverse populations. Non-nutritive suck can potentially serve as an early indicator of exposure-related neuropsychological deficits allowing for earlier interventions and thus better prognoses.