Lindsey Garfield, PhD, RN, APN
Lindsey Garfield, PhD, RN, APN began a postdoctoral fellowship in August 2014 with Dr. Linda Janusek at the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing.
Dr. Garfield is a women’s health nurse practitioner and received her PhD in Nursing from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2012, and subsequently completed an Irving Harris Postdoctoral Fellowship.
For her predoctoral training she was awarded an NIH F31 fellowship and completed an investigation focused on identifying risk factors that contribute to the disparity in perinatal depression in low-income African American women. Perinatal depression has devastating consequences for mother and infant, as depressed mothers have poor mothering skills and engage in fewer interactive behaviors with their infants, leading to delays in infant emotional, motor, and cognitive development. It is known that low-income African-American women report elevated prenatal depressive symptoms more often (42 %) than the national average (20 %), and are at greater risk to deliver both low birth weight and premature infants.
For her investigation, Dr. Garfield examined factors associated with perinatal depressive symptoms, including plasma oxytocin levels and birth weight, in a sample of urban African-American women. Her findings revealed that African American women who delivered infants at lower gestational age and without the support of the infant’s father had higher depressive symptoms. In addition, women with lower oxytocin levels had more depressive symptoms and their infants had lower birth weights compared to women with higher oxytocin levels. These findings, which link low oxytocin to perinatal depression, are intriguing given the critical role that oxytocin plays in promoting social affiliate behaviors, particularly bonding between mother and infant.
For her postdoctoral research with Dr. Janusek, Dr. Garfield will extend her research investigating disparity in perinatal depression. She is initiating a study to investigate the extent to which early life adversity contributes to risk for a perinatal proinflammatory phenotype and depressive behaviors in low income African American women; and she will also examine associations with impaired mother-infant engagement. It is hypothesized that women exposed to adversity in early life, including socioeconomic disadvantage and/or parental maltreatment, are not only at risk for depression during the perinatal period but also these women will exhibit a proinflammatory phenotype; both of which manifest during exposure to stressful life experiences.
The life challenges that accompany both pregnancy and the post-partum period can set the stage for emergence of such a proinflammatory phenotype and depressive behaviors. A heightened inflammatory environment during pregnancy and the postpartum period can drive central processes producing depression in vulnerable women. In addition, Dr. Garfield will explore an epigenetic link (DNA methylation) hypothesized to bridge early life adversity with risk for a perinatal proinflammatory phenotype and depression. Findings from Dr. Garfield’s research will clarify potential molecular mechanisms whereby the early life environment and social context contribute to disparity in maternal mental health and infant outcomes for low income African American women. Such an evaluation is highly significant, as perinatal depression not only jeopardizes maternal-infant health, but it may also affect future generations, as poor maternal care can lead to adverse epigenetic embedding of developing infant systems.