Prenatal cortisol exposure predicts infant cortisol response to acute stress.Dev Psychobiol. 2013 Mar; 55(2):145-55.DP
Experimental animal findings suggest that early stress and glucocorticoid exposure may program the function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in the offspring. The extension of these findings to human development is not yet clear. A prospective longitudinal study was conducted on 125 mothers and their normally developing children. Amniotic fluid was obtained at, on average, 17.2 weeks gestation; infant behavior and cortisol response to a separation-reunion stress was assessed at 17 months. Amniotic fluid cortisol predicted infant cortisol response to separation-reunion stress: infants who were exposed to higher levels of cortisol in utero showed higher pre-stress cortisol values and blunted response to stress exposure. The association was independent of prenatal, obstetric, and socioeconomic factors and child-parent attachment. The findings provide some of the strongest data in humans that HPA axis functioning in the child may be predicted from prenatal cortisol exposure.