Methods: Mothers (N=125) were recruited during third trimester of pregnancy and followed over time. Mothers (mean age=29 years old) were mostly white, and their socioeconomic status ranged from poverty to upper middle class. Mothers were administered the AAI prenatally, which was coded for unresolved trauma stemming from loss or abuse. Mother-infant interactions were videotaped during play, feeding and a clothes’ change at 8 months to assess their frightening behavior, using scales developed by Main & Hesse (1995). When their children were 7-year-old, mothers remaining in the study (N = 40) completed the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES), a 28-item screening tool for dissociation with 3 subscales (depersonalization/derealization, dissociative amnesia, and absorption) and the Child Behavior Checklist (CBC) to assess their child’s mental health.
Results: Mothers’ unresolved trauma assessed prenatally was predictive of mothers’ dissociative symptoms 7 years later (B = .77, p = .03). Dissociative symptoms predicted mothers’ reports of their children’s depressive symptoms marked by anxiety when the children were 7 years old, after controlling for mothers’ unresolved trauma, and frightening behavior (B = .53, p = .01). Also, mothers’ dissociative symptoms (B = .46, p = .03) and mothers’ frightening behaviors (B = 1.13, p = .04) were both significantly related to maternal reports of children’s withdrawn depression.
Conclusions and Implications: These findings are consistent with previous research establishing relations between maternal unresolved trauma, maternal dissociation, and adverse child mental health outcomes. Due to the connections found between maternal disorganized/unresolved attachment, dissociation, and mental health problems in children over time, identifying disorganized/unresolved attachment among pregnant women or during the early stages of a child’s life may provide an important window of opportunity for those specializing in preventative interventions.