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Interdisciplinary Research
Spotlight on Dr. Liz Conradt, Associate Professor 
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University
Research Focus 
Prenatal stress, mindfulness, neurodevelopment

How the Research Links to the DEC Recommended Practices
This article is related to the DEC recommended practice of the environment. We take a strengths-based approach to identifying prenatal buffers of risk for neurodevelopmental outcome. We believe these findings show that pregnant people can experience high levels of stress, and that the associations between this stress on newborn outcomes, is buffered by their use of mindfulness strategies. These findings may help pregnant people experiencing stress identify ways to cope, and that these coping strategies may be related to their newborn’s behavior.
Liz Conradt
Researcher Biography
As a clinical and developmental psychologist, my mission is to promote infant and early childhood mental health. My scientific focus is to better understand the intergenerational transmission of risk for mental health problems. In the CAN lab we document how exposures the pregnant person had throughout the lifespan can impact the pregnancy, preterm birth risk, newborn neurodevelopment, and susceptibility for psychopathology. Emotion dysregulation is a transdiagnostic, early-emerging marker of risk for a wide range of psychiatric outcomes, including ADHD, mood, and bipolar disorder. We study how emotion dysregulation – a modifiable intervention target – emerges early in development to inform preventive intervention efforts that begin prenatally and in the first year of life. Pregnant people with emotion dysregulation are also susceptible to a wide range of health risk behaviors, including substance use. Another line of research involves understanding how prenatal substance exposure, in combination with associated environmental exposures, affects neurodevelopment and mental health outcomes in early childhood. The overarching goal of my research is to leverage this science to prevent intergenerational transmission of mental health problems.
Featured Article: Maternal mindfulness during pregnancy predicts newborn neurobehavior 
Ostlund, B.D., Olavson, K., Brown, M.A., Shakiba, N., Saenz, C., Crowell, S.E., & Conradt, E. (2021). Maternal mindfulness during pregnancy predicts newborn neurobehavior. Developmental Psychobiology, 63.
A Summary of the Article & Key Takeaways
We wanted to know whether we could identify strategies pregnant people could use to possibly buffer the effects of prenatal stress on newborn behavior. We recruited a sample of pregnant people with varying levels of emotion dysregulation. Adults experience emotion dysregulation when they experience their feelings as too intense to be managed, the emotions are mismatched to the environment, and when those emotions interfere with reaching their goals. We also asked our participants about the degree to which they use mindfulness strategies in their daily lives. We wanted to know if these mindfulness strategies could reduce the effects that emotion dysregulation had on the newborn. At birth, we used the NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale (NNNS) to measure the neurobehavioral performance of the neonate. We chose to focus on newborn attention and arousal as our key outcomes. We found that mothers who had high levels of emotion dysregulation and low levels of mindfulness while pregnant had infants who had a hard time sustaining attention and orienting towards stimuli – like a ball or a rattle. On the other hand, women with high emotion dysregulation and who reported engaging in more mindfulness strategies had newborns with high attention. We did not find these associations when examining newborn arousal. We concluded that maternal mindfulness could “buffer” the effect of emotion dysregulation on newborn attention. This was an observational study, and so we cannot infer causality with these data.

Practitioners might recommend that pregnant people experiencing stress engage in some mindfulness activities. We also think that practitioners who work with stressed, pregnant people can discuss strategies they could use to improve their stress levels that might also have an effect on their baby. Thus, the caregiver can improve their own emotional health and that of their baby.
About Brendan Ostlund, First Author 
My research focuses on the developmental origins of infant temperament, with a special emphasis on the mechanisms that may underlie the intergenerational transmission of psychopathology risk. My current work examines how neural signatures in the infant brain could contribute to temperamental risk for childhood anxiety. I am an Assistant Research Professor at Penn State University, and am currently funded by a K99/R00 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.   
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