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Psychol Sci. 2012 Jan 1;23(1):93-100. doi: 10.1177/0956797611422073. Epub 2011 Dec 14.

Prescient human fetuses thrive.

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Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, University of California, Irvine, 333 City Dr. West, Suite 1200, Orange, CA 92686, USA.


Fetal detection of adversity is a conserved trait that allows many species to adapt their early developmental trajectories to ensure survival. According to the fetal-programming model, exposure to stressful or hostile conditions in utero is associated with compromised development and a lifelong risk of adverse health outcomes. In a longitudinal study, we examined the consequences of prenatal and postnatal exposure to adversity for infant development. We found increased motor and mental development during the 1st year of life among infants whose mothers experienced congruent levels of depressive symptoms during and after pregnancy, even when the levels of symptoms were relatively high and the prenatal and postnatal environments were unfavorable. Congruence between prenatal and postnatal environments prepares the fetus for postnatal life and confers an adaptive advantage for critical survival functions during early development.

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