Infants exposed to domestic violence have poorer cognitive development

MU study explores impact of multiple father figures on infant neurodevelopmental delays.

Oct. 8, 2021


Brian Consiglio: Women can be particularly vulnerable to domestic violence during pregnancy, and new research has begun to examine the impact that violence can have on the newborn babies. A recent study at the University of Missouri found infants that are exposed to domestic violence have poorer cognitive development.

After learning that many abused women often have several romantic partners during and following their pregnancy, Linda Bullock, a professor emerita at the MU Sinclair School of Nursing, conducted a study to examine the impact of multiple father figures on the cognitive development of the newborn infants.

Bullock and her team administered tests to learn about the infants’ brain development during home visits three, six and 12 months after birth. She was surprised to find the infants of women who had only one male partner who abused them had worse cognitive outcomes compared to infants of women with multiple male partners, some of whom were abusive.

Bullock: “We are one of the first studies to show the neurodevelopmental lags that these babies have, and the surprise was the women who only reported one abuser, those babies had the worst outcomes. Cognitively, it has been shown once these kids get into school, they are behind the eight ball.”

Consiglio: Bullock’s findings highlight the various ways the multiple father figures may have helped the mom support her baby, possibly providing childcare or money, which improved the infant’s development compared to babies who only knew an abusive father figure.

For more on this research, visit

I’m Brian Consiglio, with a Spotlight on Mizzou.

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