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maternal health, psychoneurological symptoms, symptom clusters



  1. Salomon, Rebecca E.
  2. Muscatell, Keely A.
  3. Crandell, Jamie
  4. Anderson, Ruth A.
  5. Beeber, Linda S.


Background: Exposure to chronic stressors may contribute to the development of psychoneurological symptoms (i.e., fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, sleep disturbance, depressed mood, and pain) that can compromise maternal function.


Objectives: In two studies of low-income mothers, we investigated the presence of psychoneurological symptoms and explored associations between mothers' stressors and psychoneurological symptoms as well as between symptoms and function. We also considered the possible mediating role of the symptoms between stressors and function.


Methods: We conducted secondary analyses of psychoneurological symptoms in two studies of low-income mothers of infants and toddlers in the United States. Study 1 sampled Latina women with limited English proficiency, whereas Study 2 was conducted with English-speaking women from diverse backgrounds. In both studies, symptoms were measured using items from the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale and the Medical Outcomes Study Short-Form Health Survey. Maternal function was measured through self-report and researcher observation. In Study 2, stressors were measured using the Everyday Stressors Index. Multiple linear regressions were used to investigate associations while controlling for relevant covariates.


Results: In both studies, mothers endorsed a wide range of psychoneurological symptoms. In Study 1, psychoneurological symptoms had significant negative associations with role function, social function, and developmental stimulation. In Study 2, psychoneurological symptoms had significant negative associations with role function, social function, and physical function. Using Aroian test for mediation, we found that psychoneurological symptoms mediated all significant relationships between stressors and maternal functions in Study 2.


Discussion: In two samples of low-income mothers, psychoneurological symptoms were prevalent and associated with chronic stressors and with maternal function and may mediate the association between those two factors. These findings extend prior research on depressive symptoms in mothers by investigating pain as an additional key symptom. The studies advance symptom science by highlighting psychoneurological symptoms in a heterogeneous sample without known health conditions.