About the Lab

In the Stress Processes in Pregnancy Lab, Prof. Dunkel Schetter and her students and collaborators conduct research on biopsychosocial processes in pregnancy.  A primary focus is on prenatal maternal stress conceptualized as environmental exposures (acute events and chronic conditions), emotional responses (anxiety and depression), and appraisals (perceived stress) and testing the effects on maternal outcomes including preterm birth, postpartum depression and offspring outcomes in infancy and early childhood. Preterm birth and postpartum depression are high incidence in the U.S. and globally, and pose many risks to the physical and mental health of individuals and families. The program of work further focuses on psychological and biological mechanisms and broad risk and psychosocial resilience factors.

Our work involves prospective longitudinal studies of thousands of pregnant women of diverse race and ethnicity and socioeconomic status including studies of low-income populations and Latin American and African American women interviewed in person in English or Spanish. The importance of race/ethnicity in our work has led to programmatic research on racial stressors such as racism and discrimination and cultural resources such as familism to fully understand the biopsychosocial processes involved. A long-standing emphasis on social and personality processes includes studies on social support, relationship quality, and other concepts such as self-esteem, mastery and dispositional optimism.

Our work has documented that prenatal anxiety, defined as anxiety about a current pregnancy, reliably predicts length of gestation and that HPA mechanisms especially corticotropin-releasing hormone of placental origin (pCRH) are involved in the pathways linking pregnancy anxiety to earlier birth. The lab has also studied maternal and offspring cortisol with blood, saliva and hair samples and examined immune mechanisms, among others.  This program of work has implications for preventive interventions and translational work has been undertaken.

For the past decade, Prof. Dunkel Schetter has been engaged in work with the NICHD-funded Community Child Health Network (CCHN) that conducted a community collaborative study on SES and racial/ethnic disparities in maternal and child health in low and middle income areas in five US sites. CCHN recruited 2500 African American, Hispanic and non-Hispanic White mothers and a subset of their partners. This work has yielded many papers on a wide range of topics including work on fathers and couples (See Projects for a full list)

An R01 follow-up study of a portion of the CCHN cohort led by Prof. Dunkel Schetter (PI) studied children of a subsequent birth and their mothers in their homes permitting examination of preconception (interconception) and prenatal processes in the prediction of maternal, birth and early child outcomes (see Publications). That work along with another recent R01 funded cohort study (Healthy Babies Before Birth/HB3) based in Los Angeles and Denver includes extensive measures of biomarkers of neuroendocrine, immune, metabolic, epigenetic, and gene expression processes in maternal and child outcomes. (See Projects)

The lab welcomes collaborators in research involving any of our datasets and works with a team science approach involving collaborators across disciplines (psychiatry, obstetrics, public health, nursing, sociology, anthropology, and of course psychology).

Latest Publications:

Pubs List Dunkel Schetter Dec 2023.

Brown, J. A., Wilson, P. A., & Schetter, C. D. (2023). Sexual Socialization Experiences and Perceived Effects on Sexual and Reproductive Health in Young African American Women. Sex Roles. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-023-01435-0

Lozowchuk, A., Carroll, J., Hobel, C., Coussons-Read, M., Dunkel Schetter, C., & Ross, K. M. (In press). Partner relationship quality and immune regulation from the third trimester of pregnancy to a year after birth. Brain, Behavior & Immunity.

Rinne, G. R., Carroll, J. E., Guardino, C. M., Shalowitz, M. U., Ramey, S. L., & Dunkel Schetter, C. (2023). Parental preconception posttraumatic stress symptoms and maternal prenatal inflammation prospectively predict shorter telomere length in children. Psychosomatic Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1097/psy.0000000000001241

Hooker, E.D., Corona, K., Guardino, C.M., Dunkel Schetter, C., & Campos, B. (2023). What predicts interdependence with family? The relative contributions of ethnicity/race and social class. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1037/cdp0000593

Julian, M., Somers, J. A., Dunkel Schetter, C., & Guardino, C. M. (2023). Resilience resources, life stressors, and postpartum depressive symptoms in a community sample of low and middle-income Black, Latina, and White mothers. Stress and health : journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, 10.1002/smi.3275. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1002/smi.3275

Rinne, G. R., Hartstein, J., Guardino, C. M., & Dunkel Schetter, C. (2023). Stress before conception and during pregnancy and maternal cortisol during pregnancy: A scoping review. Psychoneuroendocrinology153, 106115. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2023.106115

Ross, K. M., Mander, H., Rinne, G., Okun, M., Hobel, C., Coussons-Read, M., & Dunkel Schetter, C. (2023). Pregnancy-specific anxiety and gestational length: The mediating role of diurnal cortisol indices. Psychoneuroendocrinology153, 106114. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2023.106114

Rinne, G. R., Mahrer, N. E., Guardino, C. M., Shalowitz, M. U., Ramey, S. L., & Dunkel Schetter, C. (2023). Childhood family stress modifies the association between perinatal stressful life events and depressive symptoms. Journal of family psychology : JFP : journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43), 10.1037/fam0001076. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/fam0001076

Ponting, C., Ong, E., Dunkel Schetter, C., & Chavira, D. A. (2023). Exposure therapy acceptability among pregnant Latinas with anxiety: A qualitative content analysis. Cultural diversity & ethnic minority psychology, 10.1037/cdp0000589. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/cdp0000589

Galley, J.D., Mashburn-Warren, L., Blalock, L.C., Lauber, C.L, Carroll, J.E., Ross, K.M., Hobel, C., Coussons-Read, M., Dunkel Schetter, C., Gur, T.L. (2023). Maternal anxiety, depression, and stress affects offspring gut microbiome diversity and bifidobacterial abundances. Brain Behavior and Immunity. S0889-1591(22)00417-2. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2022.10.012

Méndez Leal, S., Silvers, J.A., Carroll, J.E., Cole, S.W., Ross, K.M, Ramey, S. L., Shalowitz, M.U., Dunkel Schetter, C. (2023) Maternal early life stress is associated with pro-inflammatory processes during pregnancy. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2022.10.012