Major changes in maternal physiology during pregnancy and lactation can have a large impact on the immune and neuroendocrine systems. One of the most significant changes, observed in rats and mice, is hyporesponsiveness of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (HPAA) in response to inflammation, restraint, and other psychological stressors during late pregnancy and lactation. This attenuation, however, has not been well characterized in ruminant animals and may be relevant to their susceptibility to inflammatory diseases during these periods. Thus, the intent of this study was to characterize responsiveness of the ovine HPAA to inflammatory challenge during pregnancy and lactation. Ewes from early (33 d), middle (55 d), and late (138 d) pregnancy, as well as early lactation (10 d), were challenged i.v. with a bolus dose of 400 ng of Escherichia coli lipopolysaccharide (LPS)/kg of BW or saline. A corresponding group of nonpregnant ewes was also challenged with LPS to serve as positive control animals for each pregnancy and lactation study. Responsiveness of the HPAA was assessed by measuring the 4-h change in serum cortisol concentration after LPS challenge. The cortisol increase after LPS challenge was elevated (P < 0.01) in pregnant ewes during late pregnancy over that of nonpregnant animals. In contrast, the characteristic temperature response associated with systemic LPS challenge was decreased (P < 0.01) during early pregnancy and lactation compared with nonpregnant or nonlactating animals. Serum IL-6 concentrations were measured to assess whether changes in HPAA responsiveness during pregnancy or lactation were attributed to changes in proinflammatory signaling to the HPAA. Interestingly, enhanced cortisol responsiveness during late pregnancy was correlated with increased (P < 0.01) serum IL-6 concentrations, indicating that IL-6 may contribute to enhanced HPAA responsiveness during this period. Serum IL-6 concentrations during early and midpregnancy did not increase in response to LPS challenge, indicating that HPAA activation during periods of pregnancy may be independent of IL-6 production.