Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California


UCLA Previously Published Works bannerUCLA

Maternal programming: Application of a developmental psychopathology perspective


The fetal phase of life has long been recognized as a sensitive period of development. Here we posit that pregnancy represents a simultaneous sensitive period for the adult female with broad and persisting consequences for her health and development, including risk for psychopathology. In this review, we examine the transition to motherhood through the lens of developmental psychopathology. Specifically, we summarize the typical and atypical changes in brain and behavior that characterize the perinatal period. We highlight how the exceptional neuroplasticity exhibited by women during this life phase may account for increased vulnerability for psychopathology. Further, we discuss several modes of signaling that are available to the fetus to affect maternal phenotypes (hormones, motor activity, and gene transfer) and also illustrate how evolutionary perspectives can help explain how and why fetal functions may contribute to maternal psychopathology. The developmental psychopathology perspective has spurred advances in understanding risk and resilience for mental health in many domains. As such, it is surprising that this major epoch in the female life span has yet to benefit fully from similar applications.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View