Date of Award

January 2012

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


School of Public Health

First Advisor

Jeannette R. Ickovics


BACKGROUND. Social-­emotional development in infancy can be compromised by exposure to violence, parental mental illness and other factors that interfere with a caregiver's ability to anticipate and respond to an infant's needs. Parenting stress may influence social­emotional development in the same way. In the context of disturbances to parental care, stress on the caregiver is known to adversely affect infant social-­emotional development. However, there is limited empirical evidence explicitly examining the impact of parenting stress (as it is measured in this analysis).

OBJECTIVES. To examine the effect of maternal parenting stress on the social-­emotional development of infants born to young, urban mothers, and to investigate the role of infant temperament as a potential mediator of this relationship.

METHODS. Data come from postpartum interviews with 711 participants in a prospective, randomized controlled trial promoting reproductive health through group prenatal care. At baseline, participants were in their second trimester of pregnancy and ranged in age from 14 to 25 years old. Baron and Kenny's (1986) four-­step methodology was used to determine whether infant temperament mediates the association between parenting stress and any of six indicators of social-­emotional development: sleeping dysregulation, eating dysregulation, inhibition and separation problems, attention skills, negative emotionality and positive emotionality.

RESULTS. Lower levels of parenting stress predicted better infant temperament at six months and better social-­emotional development at one year. Infant temperament also mediated the relationship between parenting stress and each social-­emotional development indicator.

CONCLUSIONS. Findings demonstrate that parenting stress is a risk factor for suboptimal social-­emotional development. Infant temperament appears to mediate the impact on the mother-­infant dyad, which drives the adverse effects of parenting stress on infant development.


This is an Open Access Thesis.