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This selective review first describes the involvement of the maternal hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis during pregnancy and the postpartum period, and the relation between peripartum HPA axis function and maternal behavior, stress reactivity and emotional dysregulation in human mothers. To provide experimental background to this correlational work, where helpful, animal studies are also described. It then explores the association between HPA axis function in mothers and their infants, under ongoing non-stressful conditions and during stressful challenges, the moderating role of mothers' sensitivity and behavior in the mother-child co-regulation and the effects of more traumatic risk factors on these relations. The overarching theme being explored is that the HPA axis - albeit a system designed to function during periods of high stress and challenge - also functions to promote adaptation to more normative processes, shown in the new mother who experiences both high cortisol and enhanced attraction and attention to and recognition of, their infants and their cues. Hence the same HPA system shows positive relations with behavior at some time points and inverse ones at others. However, the literature is not uniform and results vary widely depending on the number, timing, place, and type of samplings and assessments, and, of course, the population being studied and, in the present context, the state, the stage, and the stress levels of mother and infant. Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier Inc.


Mayra L Almanza-Sepulveda, Alison S Fleming, Wibke Jonas. Mothering revisited: A role for cortisol? Hormones and behavior. 2020 May;121:104679

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PMID: 31927022

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