Maternal and Child Health Journal

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 511–518 | Cite as

Hurricane Katrina-Related Maternal Stress, Maternal Mental Health, and Early Infant Temperament

  • Michael T. Tees
  • Emily W. HarvilleEmail author
  • Xu Xiong
  • Pierre Buekens
  • Gabriella Pridjian
  • Karen Elkind-Hirsch


To investigate temperament in infants whose mothers were exposed to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, and to determine if high hurricane exposure is associated with difficult infant temperament. A prospective cohort study of women giving birth in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, LA (n = 288) in 2006–2007 was conducted. Questionnaires and interviews assessed the mother’s experiences during the hurricane, living conditions, and psychological symptoms, 2 months and 12 months postpartum. Infant temperament characteristics were reported by the mother using the activity, adaptability, approach, intensity, and mood scales of the Early Infant and Toddler Temperament Questionnaires, and “difficult temperament” was defined as scoring in the top quartile for three or more of the scales. Logistic regression was used to examine the association between hurricane experience, mental health, and infant temperament. Serious experiences of the hurricane did not strongly increase the risk of difficult infant temperament (association with three or more serious experiences of the hurricane: adjusted odds ratio (aOR) 1.50, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.63–3.58 at 2 months; 0.58, 0.15–2.28 at 12 months). Maternal mental health was associated with report of difficult infant temperament, with women more likely to report having a difficult infant temperament at 1 year if they had screened positive for PTSD (aOR 1.82, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.61–5.41), depression, (aOR 3.16, 95% CI 1.22–8.20) or hostility (aOR 2.17, 95% CI 0.81–5.82) at 2 months. Large associations between maternal stress due to a natural disaster and infant temperament were not seen, but maternal mental health was associated with reporting difficult temperament. Further research is needed to determine the effects of maternal exposure to disasters on child temperament, but in order to help babies born in the aftermath of disaster, the focus may need to be on the mother’s mental health.


Infant temperament Natural disaster Postpartum depression Post-traumatic stress disorder 



This study was supported by NIMH grant R21 MH078185. Dr. Harville was supported by Grant Number K12HD043451 from the National Institute of Child Health And Human Development. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Child Health And Human Development or the National Institutes of Health.

Conflicts of interest statement

All authors participated in the design, execution, and analysis of the paper, have seen and approved the final version, and have no actual conflicts of interest or potential conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

10995_2009_486_MOESM1_ESM.doc (302 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 302 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael T. Tees
    • 1
    • 2
  • Emily W. Harville
    • 1
    Email author
  • Xu Xiong
    • 1
  • Pierre Buekens
    • 1
  • Gabriella Pridjian
    • 3
  • Karen Elkind-Hirsch
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health and Tropical MedicineTulane UniversityNew OrleansUSA
  2. 2.Department of Medicine, School of MedicineNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, School of MedicineTulane UniversityNew OrleansUSA
  4. 4.Woman’s Health Research InstituteWoman’s Hospital FoundationBaton RougeUSA

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