Moms who suffered physical abuse or other violent experiences in childhood are much more likely to spank their infants than moms who did not suffer these adverse childhood experiences, results of a new study indicate.
This study provides more evidence that a mother's past experiences in her own childhood have a "huge impact on how she approaches her own children," Dr. Esther K. Chung from Jefferson Pediatrics/duPont Children's Health Program in Philadelphia told Reuters Health.
Among a group of 1265 mostly black, single, low-income mothers of infants up to 11 months old, Chung and colleagues discovered that 19% said they "valued" corporal punishment as a means of discipline and 14 percent reported spanking their infants.
"We were pretty surprised, actually, to find the high prevalence of infant spanking because, on average, the children were about 9 months old and to think that children that young are being hit is disturbing," Chung said.
The findings are reported in the latest issue of the journal Pediatrics.
"What's hopeful," Chung noted, "is that not all the mothers who were exposed to this kind of adversity end up using infant spanking."
On the other hand, it is "striking," she and colleagues say, that even among mothers who were not physically abused in childhood, 1 in 10 reported spanking their infants.
They are concerned that parents may be unaware of the harm that can come from infant spanking, such as increased risk of behavior problems, low self-esteem, depression, drug abuse and physical abuse of their own children.
"Experts agree," Chung told Reuters Health, "that there are no benefits to infant spanking and there actually are harmful effects."
She encourages healthcare providers to ask pregnant women or new parents about their childhood experiences and their attitudes about spanking. "As healthcare professionals, we ask about the pregnancy and we often ask about the family structure but we probably don't do enough discussion about the mother's past," Chung said.
SOURCE: Pediatrics, August 2009.