Early Life Stress

Infant Stress Regulation

The Early Life Stress and Mental Health Program began with a K01 award from NIMH to develop operational definitions of suboptimal regulation of the stress response in healthy Black American neonates, to test hypotheses regarding pre and postnatal correlates, of such individual differences, and explore the predictive utility of neonatal stress regulation and later psychopathology. Already, in the first day of life, we observed individual differences in how infants tolerated stressful stimuli. Such differences were in part related to stress exposures that the mom experienced during pregnancy.

Stress and Nutrition

From 2003-2006 NIMH sponsored a Level I Translational Science Network, Perinatal experience and children’s mental health (PI: Delia Vazquez). The network included scientists using a variety of models to study the effects of prenatal stress on the development of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in the offspring. The goal of the network was to launch innovative, collaborative programs of research.  Several conceptually linked studies were subsequently funded. In one study, we tested the effects of DHA supplementation during pregnancy among Black American women living in urban poverty who report low sea fish consumption on regulation of stress and infant outcomes. Results provided support for the potential to use nutritional interventions to moderate the association between prenatal stress and offspring mental health. Further hypothesis testing is being conducted in a second randomized controlled trial of DHA supplementation in 180 women at the University of Chicago.

Preconception stress, pregnancy health and child development

We have recently fielded a feasibility study funded through the NIH Consortium on Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO). We propose to study the impact of preconception stress exposure on pregnancy health and infant neurodevelopment by leveraging data from the Pittsburgh Girls Study (PGS), a community based study of 2450 5-8 year old girls who have been interviewed annually about behavioral and emotional functioning and exposure to psychosocial stressors.  Now in its 17th year of data collection, the girls are in their early to mid 20s. Biospecimens are being collected on all participants to examine individual differences in immune and cardiometabolic functioning and nutrition. Participants who become pregnant over the next several years will be invited to enroll in the PGS-ECHO Study.  This will allow us to link data on stress exposure in childhood and adolescence to preconception health, stress regulation during pregnancy, and infant health and development.


Current Studies

Completed Studies


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Research Faculty , Collaborators, and Consultants: 

Judy Balk, Thad Bartlett, Susan Carlson, Alice Carter, Xin Feng, Vivette Glover, Alison Hipwell, Suma Jacob, Peter Nathanielsz, and Mark Nijland, Sarosh Rana

Current Research Staff in Chicago:

Kimberley Mbayiwa, Rimma Ilyumzhinova

Former Research Staff: 

Amanda Allen, Jenna Bortner, Michelle Byrne, Rachel Dalton, Emma Finestone, Jill Fowle, Dana Gunthorpe, Desia Grace, Cherrelle Gipson, Amy Hoffman, Amanda Fike, Kelsey Magee, Rose McAloon, Arpita Mohanty, Willa Meyer, Maribel Nieves, Robert Oliver, Nina Perales, Suzanne Pierce, Kat Ross, Rebecca Sheffield, Jennifer Strickland, Anna Sroka, Joelle Tighe, Nicole Zurche

Current and Former Student Interns:

Annabelle Bailey, Whitney George, Abigail Hurtado, Suzan Michalski, Sam Holzman, Summer Otazu, Fred Stein, Alex Thompson, Kaitlyn Wallace, Chinara Wyke