Pregnancy is a transformative experience for women and their partners, accompanied by significant hormonal, neurobiological, and psychological changes. In the Rutherford Lab, we view pregnancy and the postpartum period through an interdisciplinary lens to optimize our understanding of this critical period. Our measures capture the qualitative experience through speaking with expectant parents, as well as measuring parental neural activity and changing hormonal levels.
We employ experimental tasks where we ask expectant parents to identify emotional expressions in baby faces and monitor their eye-movements to understand what aspects of baby faces capture their attention. We also measure fetal heart rate and movement to understand associations between the developing parent and their developing child. We conduct follow ups with parents and their newborns to see whether our measures during pregnancy predict measures of parenting, as well as neonatal brain and behavioral development in the postpartum period.
An important component of our approach is to understand how changes in mood, as well as substance use, affect parents and their developing child. Our mission is to use our prenatal findings to reliably identify families that may need additional support and guidance during pregnancy and the postpartum period to optimize parent and child well-being.