Postpartum Stress and Neural Regulation of Emotion among First-Time Mothers

Leah A. Grande, Aviva K. Olsavsky, Andrew Erhart, Alexander J. Dufford, Rebekah Tribble, K. Luan Phan, Pilyoung Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Early parenting relies on emotion regulation capabilities, as mothers are responsible for regulating both their own emotional state and that of their infant during a time of new parenting-related neural plasticity and potentially increased stress. Previous research highlights the importance of frontal cortical regions in facilitating effective emotion regulation, but few studies have investigated the neural regulation of emotion among postpartum women. The current study employed a functional neuroimaging (fMRI) approach to explore the association between perceived stress, depressive symptoms, and the neural regulation of emotion in first-time mothers. Among 59 postpartum mothers, higher perceived stress during the postpartum period was associated with less self-reported use of cognitive reappraisal in everyday life, and greater use of emotion suppression. While viewing standardized aversive images during the Emotion Regulation Task (ERT), mothers were instructed to experience their natural emotional state (Maintain) or to decrease the intensity of their negative emotion by using cognitive reappraisal (Reappraise). Whole-brain analysis revealed a two-way interaction of perceived stress x condition in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) at p <.05 cluster-wise corrected, controlling for postpartum months and scanner type. Higher levels of perceived stress were associated with heightened right DLPFC activity while engaging in cognitive reappraisal versus naturally responding to negative stimuli. Higher right DLPFC activity during Reappraise versus Maintain was further associated with elevated parenting stress. Findings suggest that stress and everyday reappraisal use is reflected in mothers’ neural regulation of emotion and may have important implications for their adaptation to parenthood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1066-1082
Number of pages17
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [R21HD078797; R01 HD090068], the National Institute of Health [R21DA046556]; the Professional Research Opportunity for Faculty (PROF) and Faculty Research Fund (FRF), University of Denver; NARSAD Independent Investigator Grant, and the Victoria S. Levin Award For Early Career Success in Young Children’s Mental Health Research, Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD). Aviva K. Olsavsky was supported by Developmental Psychobiology Research Group Postdoctoral Fellowship T32MH015442 and the National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Program. For disclosure, Aviva Olsavsky is the recipient of additional non-governmental funding sources which did not support this research project (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Pilot Award and Developmental Psychobiology Endowment Fund small grant award), and Aviva’s husband works for Thermo Fisher Scientific, a biomedical company unrelated to this line of research. The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest in the research. The authors thank the families that participated in the study and the individuals that supported recruitment. The authors also wish to acknowledge Amy Anderson, Lindsay Blanton, Christian Capistrano, Christina Congleton, Tanisha Crosby-Attipoe, Victoria Everts, Rachel Gray, Claire Jeske, Laura Jeske, and Nanxi Xu for research assistance.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Psychonomic Society, Inc.


  • Emotion regulation
  • fMRI
  • Parenting stress
  • Perceived stress
  • Postpartum


Dive into the research topics of 'Postpartum Stress and Neural Regulation of Emotion among First-Time Mothers'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this