July 17, 2017

Strong maternal bonds may help reduce childhood skin disease that can lead to asthma

Nursing professor Nicole Letourneau says maternal-child relationship is key
Professor Nicole Letourneau's research suggests that higher maternal sensitivity and responsiveness to her child's needs may reduce its odds of developing childhood atopic dermatitis.

Nicole Letourneau, PhD, RN, FCAHS.

A Faculty of Nursing researcher says babies with mothers who are more sensitive and responsive to their needs during the first six months are less likely to develop childhood atopic dermatitis (AD), a hypersensitive skin disease and a common precursor to asthma. Findings from her study were recently published in Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology, the official journal of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Nicole Letourneau, who holds the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation Chair in Parent-Infant Mental Health in the faculty, says while many studies have identified associations between qualities of maternal–child relationships and childhood asthma, few have examined associations with AD.

“AD is characterized by inflamed and scaly skin lesions and rashes so it can be highly visual. For this reason, symptoms that persist can lead, in older children, to depression, sleep deprivation, feelings of embarrassment, stigma — all things that can contribute to a diminished quality of life for children and a higher burden on parents and the health system overall.”

Letourneau and her co-investigators used a subsample of 242 women and their infants, assessing them at six months of age and again at 18 months. They found that higher maternal sensitivity, or the ability of the mother to appropriately understand and respond to infant needs based on behavioural signals, predicted reduced odds of AD. As well, social support from partners may also reduce the risk.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to uncover the association between maternal–infant relationship qualities of sensitivity, control, and unresponsiveness, and childhood AD,” Letourneau says. “Our results suggest interventions that improve the quality of that relationship and lessen anxiety could reduce odds of contracting the disease. And additionally, strengthening of relationships between caregivers serves as a means of controlling maternal anxiety and may also be effective in helping prevent AD. This is significant, as reducing the odds of children developing AD may prevent them going on to develop asthma.”

Read more about Letourneau’s findings.