College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Summer 8-20-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Cecilia Martinez-Torteya, PhD

Second Advisor

Kathryn Grant, PhD


Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is a major public health concern in the United States (US). One third of women in the US have experienced rape, physical assault or stalking by a former or current partner (Black et al., 2011). Evidence suggests that women experience increased risk for IPV during the perinatal period and exposure to IPV during and after pregnancy increases risk for adverse physical and mental health outcomes for victims. The “fetal programming” hypothesis proposes that prenatal experiences are also particularly impactful for offspring development in the short and long term; prenatal poor nutrition and stress have been linked to negative health outcomes for infants and children, including temperamental difficulties, decreased emotion regulation, and psychopathology (Bergman, Sarkar, O’Connor, Modi & Glover, 2007; Davis et al., 2004; Huizink, de Medina, Mulder, Visser, & Buitelaar, 2002). The Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) has been identified as a potential mechanism linking prenatal experience and maladaptive outcomes later on. However, there is a paucity of information about the influence of prenatal IPV, a common, often chronic, and highly detrimental stressor, on infant HPA axis development. The current study explores the influence of prenatal IPV exposure on the infant stress response using salivary cortisol, a hormonal indicator of the HPA axis. This study also evaluates the interactions between prenatal IPV exposure, and common co-occurring risk factors, including maternal childhood maltreatment history, and maternal postpartum depressive and PTSD symptoms. A more comprehensive understanding of the biopsychosocial concomitants of prenatal exposure to IPV is needed to inform future prevention and intervention efforts early in life.

SLP Collection