Pre-pregnancy obesity and maternal circadian cortisol regulation: Moderation by gestational weight gain

Biol Psychol. 2014 Oct;102:38-43. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2014.07.006. Epub 2014 Jul 16.


We investigated main and interactive effects of maternal pre-pregnancy obesity and gestational weight gain on circadian cortisol from the second to third trimester. A diverse sample of 215 pregnant women was enrolled. Maternal height and most recent pre-pregnancy weight were collected at study initiation (22% obese). Weight and circadian salivary cortisol samples were measured during second (24±4) and third (35±1 weeks) trimesters. During the third trimester, women who were obese prior to conception showed elevated evening cortisol versus normal weight women. This pattern was moderated by weight gain in excess of Institute of Medicine guidelines, such that women who were obese prior to conception and gained greater than 7.94kg by the 35±1 week visit displayed greatest elevations in evening cortisol. Given links between excessive prenatal glucocorticoid exposure and both poor maternal and offspring health outcomes, elevated maternal cortisol may be one mechanism underlying links between maternal obesity and adverse perinatal outcomes.

Keywords: Cortisol; Glucocorticoid; Obesity; Pregnancy; Weight gain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Second / metabolism
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Third / metabolism
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • United States
  • Weight Gain*
  • Young Adult


  • Hydrocortisone