Objectives: The aim of this study was to investigate the impact of fetal alcohol exposure, maternal depressive symptoms, and low emotional support from the husband on infant irritability in the first one and a half years of life. Four models describing the interplay of these factors were assessed: A direct effect model, an interaction or threshold model, a mediational model and a transactional model.
Method: A sample of initially 458 women was assessed in a prospective 3-wave study across the first 17 months after childbirth. Fetal alcohol exposure was questioned retrospectively six weeks after birth. Infant irritability was reported by the mothers and fathers.
Results: Support for the direct effect model and the interaction model could be found: Fetal alcohol exposure and low emotional support from the husband were associated with increased infant irritability at 5 months. The impact of fetal alcohol exposure was moderated by postnatal depressive symptoms. More irritability was reported if both risk factors, prenatal alcohol exposure and maternal depressive symptoms, were present. Infant irritability and maternal depressive symptoms were associated cross-sectionally. At the age of 17 months only a main effect of prenatal alcohol exposure on irritability could be found.
Conclusion: Direct effects of fetal alcohol exposure, maternal depressive symptoms, and low emotional support from the husband on infant irritability as well as an interaction between fetal alcohol exposure and maternal depressive symptoms were revealed. The interaction can be understood in terms of a diathesis-stress model. However, no longitudinal associations between maternal depressive symptoms and infant irritability could be found.