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The fetal phase of life has long been recognized as a sensitive period of development. Here we posit that pregnancy represents a simultaneous sensitive period for the adult female with broad and persisting consequences for her health and development, including risk for psychopathology. In this review, we examine the transition to motherhood through the lens of developmental psychopathology. Specifically, we summarize the typical and atypical changes in brain and behavior that characterize the perinatal period. We highlight how the exceptional neuroplasticity exhibited by women during this life phase may account for increased vulnerability for psychopathology. Further, we discuss several modes of signaling that are available to the fetus to affect maternal phenotypes (hormones, motor activity, and gene transfer) and also illustrate how evolutionary perspectives can help explain how and why fetal functions may contribute to maternal psychopathology. The developmental psychopathology perspective has spurred advances in understanding risk and resilience for mental health in many domains. As such, it is surprising that this major epoch in the female life span has yet to benefit fully from similar applications.


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Development and Psychopathology, volume 30, issue 3, in 2018 following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version is available online at DOI: 10.1017/S0954579418000524.


Cambridge University Press



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