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One of the key proposed agents of fetal programming is exposure to maternal glucocorticoids. Experimental animal studies provide evidence that prenatal exposure to elevated maternal glucocorticoids has consequences for hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis functioning in the offspring. There are very few direct tests of maternal glucocorticoids, such as cortisol, during human pregnancy and associations with infant cortisol reactivity. The current study examined the link between maternal prenatal cortisol trajectories and infant cortisol reactivity to the pain of inoculation in a sample of 152 mother-infant (47.4% girls) pairs. The results from the current study provide insight into fetal programming of the infant HPA axis, demonstrating that elevated prenatal maternal cortisol is associated with a larger infant cortisol response to challenge at both 6 and 12 months of age.


NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Psychoneuroendocrinology. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, volume 125, in 2021.

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