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Parent–child intervention decreases stress and increases maternal brain activity and connectivity during own baby-cry: An exploratory study

  • James E. Swain (a1) (a2) (a3), S. Shaun Ho (a1), Katherine L. Rosenblum (a2), Diana Morelen (a4), Carolyn J. Dayton (a5) and Maria Muzik (a2)...

Parental responses to their children are crucially influenced by stress. However, brain-based mechanistic understanding of the adverse effects of parenting stress and benefits of therapeutic interventions is lacking. We studied maternal brain responses to salient child signals as a function of Mom Power (MP), an attachment-based parenting intervention established to decrease maternal distress. Twenty-nine mothers underwent two functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans during a baby-cry task designed to solicit maternal responses to child's or self's distress signals. Between scans, mothers were pseudorandomly assigned to either MP (n = 14) or control (n = 15) with groups balanced for depression. Compared to control, MP decreased parenting stress and increased child-focused responses in social brain areas highlighted by the precuneus and its functional connectivity with subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, which are key components of reflective self-awareness and decision-making neurocircuitry. Furthermore, over 13 weeks, reduction in parenting stress was related to increasing child- versus self-focused baby-cry responses in amygdala–temporal pole functional connectivity, which may mediate maternal ability to take her child's perspective. Although replication in larger samples is needed, the results of this first parental-brain intervention study demonstrate robust stress-related brain circuits for maternal care that can be modulated by psychotherapy.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: James E. Swain, Department of Psychiatry, Stony Brook University Medical Center, HSC, T10-020, Stony Brook, NY 11794-8101; E-mail:
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This article is supported by the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation (to J.E.S.), the State of Michigan, Department of Community Health (2009–2010, to M.M.); the University of Michigan's Injury Center (Center for Disease Control and Prevention U49/CE002099); the Center for Human Growth and Development (to J.E.S.); the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholar Awards (to J.E.S. and M.M.); and the National Institutes for Health National Center for Advanced Translational Sciences via the Michigan Institute for Clinical Health Research UL1TR000433 (to J.E.S., S.S.H., C.J.D., K.L.R., and M.M.).

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