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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Department

Social Work

First Advisor

Carolyn J. Dayton

Abstract

Expectant parents who have been exposed to psychosocial risk encounter deleterious psychological (Ashley et al., 2016), and physiological (V. H. Pereira, Campos, & Sousa, 2017) effects. This not only affects the parent-to-be, but also may affect the developing fetus (E. P. Davis et al., 2011) and is linked to poorer infant development (Lefmann & Combs-Orme, 2014). However, not all risk-exposed individuals experience this, many are resilient and still thrive in the face of adversity. Understanding potential risk and resiliency factors in expectant parents is advantageous, so tailored interventions can be devised to improve outcomes. One potential resiliency factor, mindfulness, is finding its way into a variety of contexts, however little research has been explored in a sample of diverse, expectant parents who are exposed to risk. In response, this three-paper dissertation examined dispositional mindfulness in women and men expecting a baby (N=102). First, the relationship between dispositional mindfulness and depressive symptoms, considering the potential confounding effect of trauma symptoms was explored. Next, mindfulness and trauma were investigated as predictors of potential risk for child abuse. Finally, physiological stress (vagal tone) response to a parenting stressor was studied in low and high resiliency groups. Findings illustrate a significant relationship, in the expected direction, between total dispositional mindfulness and depressive symptoms as well as potential risk for child abuse. Total dispositional mindfulness and the subscale of non-reactivity predicted depressive symptoms and higher potential risk of child abuse. Trauma symptoms were also predictive of both depressive symptoms and risk of child abuse. Low and high resiliency groups approached significance (p=.06) in differing stress recovery (high frequency heart rate variability) from the common parenting stress of soothing a crying baby. Implications for clinical practice and future research are discussed.

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