Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Science




Mottola, Michelle F.


Poor infant emotion regulation (ER) has been linked with increased psychopathological risk in infancy and childhood. The Developmental Origins of Health and Disease Hypothesis suggests the prenatal period as the earliest point of intervention, where fetal exposure to healthy lifestyle changes can promote optimal ER in infancy. Infant electroencephalography (EEG; n=13) and heart rate variability (HRV; n=18) were measured at rest and in response to a toy removal task, to determine the ER of infants whose mothers participated in a nutrition and exercise intervention during pregnancy. Results demonstrated positive left frontal alpha asymmetry at rest (0.08± 0.66) and in response to stress (0.27 ± 0.72; p=0.167), with a significant increase in HRV (RMSSD: Z= -2.90, p

Summary for Lay Audience

Research shows that the behaviour of the mother during pregnancy can affect brain development of the infant. Brain development can impact how an infant manages emotions such as anger or sadness. This is known as emotion regulation. If an infant manages emotions well there is evidence that this will continue throughout life. However, if an infant cannot manage emotions this may be harmful later in life. This study looked at how the nutrition and exercise choices of the mother affect the brain health of their infant. It is important because these choices impact the infant from early life to older age. To test this, women participated in a nutrition and exercise intervention during pregnancy. One year after these women gave birth, the emotion regulation of their infants was tested by recording brain and heart activity patterns. Results demonstrated that the infants of women who participated in a nutrition and exercise program while pregnant managed their emotions well. This research is important because it could help women protect the brain health of their infants before they are born. In the future, researchers and doctors may use these findings to inform women about healthy behaviour during pregnancy that will positively impact the health of their infant.