Gestational Hormone Profiles predict Human Maternal Behavior at 1-year Postpartum

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology


In many non-human species, including primates, gestational reproductive hormones play an essential role in the onset of maternal motivation and behaviors. We investigated the associations between prepartum estradiol and progesterone and maternal behavior at 1-year postpartum in 177 women. Blood was obtained at five gestational time points and an index of quality of maternal care was determined using a well-validated mother-child interaction protocol. Women who exhibited higher quality maternal care at 1-year postpartum were characterized by unique gestational profiles of estradiol, progesterone and the estrogen to progesterone ratio; specifically by slower accelerations and levels of these hormone trajectories beginning in midgestation. Further, it appeared that both fetal sex and parity moderated these findings, with first time mothers and mothers of females showing stronger associations. In sum, these data document persisting associations between prepartum hormone profiles and human maternal behavior. More broadly, these findings add to the growing literature highlighting the perinatal period as one of critical neurodevelopment in the lifespan of the human female.

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