Perspectives on Behavior Science

, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 637–652 | Cite as

Maternal Behavioral Health: Fertile Ground for Behavior Analysis

  • Yukiko WashioEmail author
  • Mara Humphreys
Original Research


The World Health Organization has identified four behavioral health priorities as risk factors for noncommunicable diseases in maternal populations: tobacco use, harmful alcohol use, poor nutrition, and lack of physical activity. These risk factors also significantly affect pregnant and immediately postpartum mothers, doubling the health risk and economic burden by adversely affecting maternal and birth or infant outcomes. Psychosocial and behavioral interventions are ideal for pregnant and immediately postpartum women as opposed to pharmacotherapy. Among other behavioral interventions, the use of incentives based on the principles of reinforcement has been a successful yet controversial way to change health behaviors. Implementing an incentive-based intervention in maternal health often brings up social validity concerns. The existing guideline on how to develop and conduct research in incentive-based interventions for maternal health lacks enough information on the specific variables to control for to maintain the intervention’s effectiveness. This article outlines some of the critical variables in implementing an effective behavior–analytic intervention and addressing social validity concerns to change maternal behaviors in a sustainable manner, along with specific research topics needed in the field to prevent adverse maternal, birth, and infant outcomes.


Health incentives Maternal and infant health Smoking Drinking Breastfeeding Behavioral health research 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Financial Disclosure

The authors have no financial relationships relevant to this article to disclose.

Conflict of Interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.


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© Association for Behavior Analysis International 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Christiana Care Health SystemNewarkUSA
  2. 2.University of DelawareNewarkUSA
  3. 3.Bancroft NeurohealthCherry HillUSA

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