Pregnancy is a period of substantial neuroendocrine changes. These changes are not limited to the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal hormones, but also involve the placenta and its secreted hormones, especially the corticotropin releasing hormone that is a major component of the stress axis. These hormonal changes are also associated with changes in the immune/inflammatory and cardiovascular systems. The cumulative evidence that dysregulation in this multifactorial interactional field may cause deleterious effects on the fetus and its future development emphasizes the importance and clinical relevance of this line of research. When vulnerability and genetic predisposition to gestational stress and its adverse effects are added to the equation, the importance of adequate treatments and possible preventive interventions is underscored.
Pregnancy is usually perceived as a happy period. However, as demonstrated by Uriel Halbreich, MD, severe mood, behavior, and cognitive symptoms are quite prevalent during pregnancy. The magnitude of the problem is probably not reflected by the reported prevalence of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition or International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Edition major mental disorders. A closer evaluation and treatment of symptoms, especially when they are associated with impairment, stress, and distress, may improve the mental health of the mother and the expected baby.