Poverty During Pregnancy Associated with Reduced Infant Brain Size Interview with:
Regina Triplett, M.D., M.S.

Developmental Neuroscience Post-Doctoral Research Scholar
Department of Neurology
Washington University in St. Louis, MO  What is the background for this study?  What are the main findings?

 Response: This is an ongoing, longitudinal, prospective study of 399 pairs of mothers studied throughout pregnancy and their infants, designed to investigate exposure to early life adversity (prenatal poverty and stress) on infant brain development and behavior in early childhood. We examined measures of maternal socioeconomic status including neighborhood factors and stress/mental health during pregnancy in relation to data from infant brain MRI scans conducted in the first weeks after birth.

We found that poverty during pregnancy is associated with reduced size and folding of infant brains. We found these associations across the whole brain and not specific to one region. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: These findings should be a call to action to protect the developing brain. This study suggests that socioeconomic factors could be targeted to support infant and childhood brain development, but importantly, these supports may be most effective while the brain is first developing (before birth). What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work? 

Response: As we are continuing to study these infants as they grow older, we will first examine whether the differences seen at birth relate to behavioral outcomes in early childhood (between ages 1-3 years). We also have other work underway trying to better understand what might drive these differences (such as levels of maternal inflammation). Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: I would add that our findings should not be used to stigmatize families living in poverty. It is important to note that the size of the brain does not necessarily predict poor outcomes, and we do not yet have outcome data for this specific study (we are still studying these infants as they grow up). We do already know that children who grow up in poverty may also have smaller brain volumes later in life, and they may have higher rates of learning or behavioral difficulties than children who do not grow up in poverty. We also know that there are supports and even behaviors (like empathetic caregiving) that can be provided in childhood that relate to improved behavioral outcomes even among children who have identified smaller brain volumes.

I have no disclosures other than our funding sources. Our research was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, March of Dimes Foundation, Children’s Discovery Institute at Washington University, Washington University Intellectual and Developmental Disability Research Center, and the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.


Triplett RL, Lean RE, Parikh A, et al. Association of Prenatal Exposure to Early-Life Adversity With Neonatal Brain Volumes at Birth. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(4):e227045. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.7045

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Last Updated on April 13, 2022 by Marie Benz MD FAAD