Prenatal Adversity Modulates the Quality of Maternal Care Via the Exposed Offspring

Bioessays. 2019 Jun;41(6):e1900025. doi: 10.1002/bies.201900025. Epub 2019 May 15.


Adversities in pregnancy, including poor diet and stress, are associated with increased risk of developing both metabolic and mental health disorders later in life, a phenomenon described as fetal programming or developmental origins of disease. Predominant hypotheses proposed to explain this relationship suggest that the adversity imposes direct changes to the developing fetus which are maintained after birth resulting in an increased susceptibility to ill health. However, during pregnancy the mother, the developing fetus, and the placenta are all exposed to the adversity. The same adversities linked to altered offspring outcome can also result in suboptimal maternal care, which is considered an independent adverse exposure for the offspring. Recent key experiments in mice reveal the potential of prenatal adversity to drive alterations in maternal care through abnormal maternal-pup interactions and via alterations in placental signaling. Together, these data highlight the critical importance of viewing fetal programming holistically paying attention to the intimate, bidirectional, and reiterative relationship between mothers and their offspring.

Keywords: fetal programming; maternal behavior; placental signaling; prenatal adversity; ultrasonic vocalization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diet, High-Fat / adverse effects
  • Diet, Protein-Restricted / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior / physiology*
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Obesity, Maternal / complications
  • Placenta / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Rats
  • Stress, Physiological
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / complications