Prenatal and birth cohort studies, including those that start before conception, are an epidemiologic study design that best allows for the investigation of early-life origins of adult disease. This article reviews the definition and methodology of a cohort study. We also identify the worldwide locations of the most important preconception, prenatal, and birth cohorts that have been studied, as well as describe their characteristics. Finally, we examine the importance of these studies in the context of life-course epidemiology research and discuss why new studies of this type are needed. Preconception, prenatal, and birth cohorts provide insights into the mechanism of risk and protection across the life course and between generations, and have contributed significantly to what is known today regarding the developmental origins of health and disease hypothesis.

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