OBJECTIVES: To assess associations among maternal childhood experiences and subsequent parenting attitudes and use of infant spanking (IS), and determine if attitudes mediate the association between physical abuse exposure and IS.

METHODS: We performed a prospective study of women who received prenatal care at community health centers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Sociodemographic characteristics, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), attitudes toward corporal punishment (CP), and IS use were assessed via face-to-face interviews, conducted at the first prenatal care visit, 3 months postpartum, and 11 months postpartum. Bivariate and multiple logistic regression analyses were conducted.

RESULTS: The sample consisted of 1265 mostly black, low-income women. Nineteen percent of the participants valued CP as a means of discipline, and 14% reported IS use. Mothers exposed to childhood physical abuse and verbal hostility were more likely to report IS use than those not exposed (16% vs 10%, P = .002; 17% vs 12%, P = .02, respectively). In the adjusted analyses, maternal exposure to physical abuse, other ACEs, and valuing CP were independently associated with IS use. Attitudes that value CP did not mediate these associations.

CONCLUSIONS: Mothers who had childhood experiences of violence were more likely to use IS than mothers without such experiences. Intergenerational transmission of CP was evident. Mothers who had experienced physical abuse as a child, when compared to those who had not, were 1.5 times more likely to use IS. Child discipline attitudes and maternal childhood experiences should be discussed early in parenting in order to prevent IS use, particularly among at-risk mothers.

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