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Keywords:

  • emotional availability;
  • child development;
  • physical abuse;
  • sexual abuse;
  • mother-infant-interaction

Maternal history of abuse has been proposed as a risk factor for child maltreatment, but the background of this “cycle of abuse” is as yet poorly understood. As a contribution toward a deeper understanding of this phenomenon, this study analyzed whether emotional availability is altered by maternal experiences of physical or sexual abuse during their upbringing. Mothers were contacted by mail and presented with the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. To form the index group, women who reached a cutoff for severe sexual and/or physical abuse and whose children were term babies with APGAR scores 7 were included in the study. The women were invited to the laboratory when their infants were 5 months old. Emotional availability was compared with a group of mother-infant pairs matched for infant gender, maternal education, marital status, number of infants, and birth weight. The results show that 5-month postnatal mothers with a history of physical or sexual abuse were significantly more intrusive toward their children than were control mothers.