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Stress. 2010 Mar;13(2):163-71. doi: 10.3109/10253890903128632.

Maternal cortisol in late pregnancy and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal reactivity to psychosocial stress postpartum in women.

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Department of Clinical and Theoretical Psychobiology, University of Trier, Trier, Germany.


Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity is altered postpartum and has been associated with several puerperal disorders. However, little is known about the association of maternal HPA activity during pregnancy with maternal HPA responsiveness to stress after parturition. Within a longitudinal study with an experimental component, we assessed in 22 women the salivary cortisol awakening response (CAR) at the 36th week of gestation and 6 weeks postpartum, as well as pituitary-adrenal and emotional responses to a psychosocial laboratory stressor at 8 weeks postpartum. CAR in late pregnancy negatively predicted maternal adrenocorticotropin (ACTH; ss = - 0.60; P = 0.003), plasma cortisol (ss = - 0.69, P < 0.001), and salivary cortisol (ss = - 0.66; P = 0.001) but not emotional stress reactivity (all P>0.05) at 8 weeks postpartum, whereas CAR at 6 weeks postpartum failed to predict hormonal (ACTH: ss = 0.02; P = 0.933, plasma cortisol: ss = - 0.23; P = 0.407, salivary cortisol: ss = - 0.15; P = 0.597) or emotional (all P>0.05) stress responses at 8 weeks postpartum. The activity of the HPA axis during pregnancy is associated with maternal HPA responsiveness to stress postpartum. Putative biological underpinnings warrant further attention. A better understanding of stress-related processes peripartum may pave the way for the prevention of associated puerperal disorders.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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