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Associations between maternal prenatal cortisol concentrations and child outcomes: A systematic review

Associations between maternal prenatal cortisol concentrations and child outcomes: A systematic review

Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 53: 1-24

A frequently proposed mechanism underlying the link between maternal prenatal stress/anxiety and child outcomes is heightened concentrations of maternal cortisol. In this systematic review, empirical findings on associations between maternal prenatal cortisol concentrations and child outcomes (physical/health, cognitive/motor, psychological/behavioral, and cortisol) are summarized. The number of empirical studies that find significant associations between maternal prenatal cortisol and child outcomes is small, but the majority of the studies that do find associations show that maternal cortisol is related to altered child outcomes (e.g. more physical/health problems, lower cognitive/motor development, more psychological/behavioral problems, and higher child cortisol concentrations). Inspection of the studies reveals possible critical gestational periods for maternal cortisol to affect different child outcomes. The heterogeneity in study designs and cortisol assessment methods makes drawing strong conclusions premature. However, the fact that most studies did not find significant associations suggests that maternal cortisol may not to be the sole or even main underlying mechanism in the relation between maternal prenatal stress/anxiety and child outcomes. Limitations of the reviewed studies are discussed, and directions for future research and reporting strategies are provided.

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Accession: 057258587

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PMID: 25795521

DOI: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2015.02.015

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