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Prenatal origins of neurological development: A critical period for fetus and mother


A rapidly accumulating literature indicates that the prenatal period must be taken into account if we are to understand development of the central nervous system (CNS) across the life span. Evidence now suggests that intrauterine signals influence brain structure and affect cognitive function and emotional and physiological stress regulation in the offspring. Furthermore, prenatal hormone exposures are critical for priming the maternal brain for the challenges of motherhood and have implications for the mother's brain structure and function that may last the rest of her lifetime. Just as the reciprocal nature of the parent-child relationship must be understood during the postnatal period, in order to understand the persisting influences of the intrauterine environment on neurodevelopment, the effects of the prenatal environment on both fetus and mother, as well as their reciprocal influences, must be appreciated. This is critical because the same hormones that program fetal development are those that shape the maternal brain and because prenatal bidirectional signaling may provide an adaptive function for both mother and fetus. © Association for Psychological Science 2011.

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