Pregnancy and lactation are key times in the life of female mammals when energetic resources must be brought to bear to produce and nurture offspring. Changes in glucocorticoid (GC) levels are central to this objective, due to their roles in modulating development and physiology and in mediating energetic tradeoffs. We examined GC changes over reproduction in a species living in a harsh seasonal environment: the arctic ground squirrel (Urocitellus parryii). Females become pregnant immediately after emerging from a ~9 month hibernation, and then must begin this pregnancy during an additional month of freezing temperatures and limited food availability. We measured plasma levels of total cortisol, corticosteroid-binding globulin (CBG), and free cortisol in unstressed females at three stages: not-visibly pregnant, visibly pregnant, and lactating. Total cortisol levels were similar in all stages, but CBG levels increased 4-fold from the not-visibly pregnant stage to visibly pregnant and lactating stage. As a result, the free cortisol fraction declined from 51% of total cortisol when females were not-visibly pregnant to only 5% when they were visibly pregnant (remaining low and stable throughout pregnancy) and 10% when they were lactating. This pattern is markedly different from that seen in other mammals, where 10% or less of GCs are free and these tend to increase during gestation. We postulate that the high free cortisol just prior to visible pregnancy is a seasonal adaptation relating either to the markedphysiological changes the female must undergo after emerging from hibernation and immediately getting pregnant, or to the mobilization of body reserves for energy to permit pregnancy, or both. Thereafter, high CBG levels may shield thedeveloping offspring from the negative effects of cortisol overexposure.