Urinary cortisol is lower in pregnant women with higher pre-pregnancy BMI

Emily E. Hohman, Joshua M. Smyth, Katherine M. McNitt, Abigail M. Pauley, Danielle Symons Downs, Jennifer S. Savage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background/objectives: Although cortisol levels increase during normal pregnancy, particularly high levels of cortisol or stress have been associated with adverse maternal/child outcomes. Obesity is associated with altered cortisol metabolism, but there is limited information on pregnancy-related changes in cortisol in pregnant women with overweight/obesity. The objective of this study was to examine weekly measures of urinary cortisol and perceived stress throughout ~10-36 weeks gestation, if levels differ by pre-pregnancy BMI categories, and whether concurrent measures of urinary cortisol and perceived stress are associated. Methods: Longitudinal observational data from Healthy Mom Zone, a gestational weight management intervention, and an ancillary fetal growth study were combined. Pregnant women with normal (n=7), overweight (n=11), or obese (n=14) pre-pregnancy BMI were recruited at >8 weeks gestation. Overnight urinary cortisol and Perceived Stress Scale were measured weekly from ~10-36 weeks gestation. Results: Higher pre-pregnancy BMI was associated with overall lower urinary cortisol throughout gestation, but rate of increase in urinary cortisol across pregnancy was similar across weight status groups. Women with obesity reported higher levels of overall perceived stress than normal weight women. Regardless of weight status, perceived stress was not associated with gestational age or cortisol. Conclusions: Although women with obesity reported higher perceived stress, they had lower urinary cortisol than women with normal BMI, and gestation-related increases in cortisol were similar across weight groups and unrelated to perceived stress, suggesting that physiological factors that drive increases in cortisol as pregnancy may outweigh effects of stress and adiposity. Clinical trial registration: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03945266,

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1014574
JournalFrontiers in Endocrinology
StatePublished - Jan 11 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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