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Krista Oswalt, PhD, CCLS, CIMI
Faculty Research Associate, Project Director (Parenting Young Children Project)
mother-infant interactions, teen parenting, prematurity, mothers with HIV, infant massage, intervention research
The parent-infant relationship has been found to influence children in the areas of social, emotional, and cognitive development. Unfortunately, the quality of this relationship can bring about either positive or negative developmental outcomes. My interests are currently focused on the less than optimal outcomes at risk for occurring within particular maternal populations such as teen mothers, depressed mothers, and HIV-infected mothers. Because negative characteristics associated with these mothers have been identified in the literature, and these negative characteristics are also associated with poor infant outcomes, there is clearly a need for interventions aimed at these populations.
One intervention aimed at increasing parents knowledge and involvement with their infants is infant massage. A wealth of literature exists on the topic of infant massage; however, the main emphasis has been on the benefits for the infants, primarily due to physical stimulation. An additionally important aspect of infant massage that has not been focused on is the benefit of providing information about infant development and cues to parents. Benefits of infant massage have been found to have positive short-term and long-term effects on the infants development, positively influence mothers depression, and facilitate mother-infant interactions. Teaching parents about their infants development and behavioral cues helps these parents provide a nurturing and developmentally appropriate environment for their infants. This in turn helps ensure that these infants will have good developmental outcomes. The overall purpose of my research studies have been to expand the research in infant massage therapy to new populations and use theory to develop, implement, and evaluate a massage intervention that would have direct and indirect benefits for both mother and infant.
In the future, it will be important to discover the long-term effects of infant massage training. Although the results of my research studies have given some support for the notion that infant development is influenced by the mother. Due to the short interval between baseline and follow-up data collection, this relationship is still unclear. In future studies, I plan to utilize a longitudinal design with multiple data collection point to determine the persistence of group differences over time. Additionally, infant development outcomes may be more easily evaluated with older infants, making inferences about developmental outcomes more valid. Also, in order to determine the separate role that different components of infant massage play in both parent and infant outcomes, knowledge about infant behavior and physical stimulation through massage need to be compared as separate and distinct interventions in future research.
I have also assisted in research related to postpartum depression, contraceptive use, preterm infants, and adolescent health. These are areas that I also have interest in along with a variety of developmental disabilities. I have had the pleasure of working with professionals from a variety of disciplines including psychology, social work, nursing, psychiatry and pediatrics through their research projects as well as my own. I look forward to continued collaboration with faculty members within my department along with those in other disciplines.