Association between maternal stress and premature milk cortisol, milk IgA, and infant health: a cohort study.

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Front Nutr


washington; swedish


BACKGROUND: Maternal stress is pervasive in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Maternal stress is associated with changes in human milk (HM) immunomodulatory agents, which may impact neonatal health. We sought to determine the association between maternal stress, HM immunoglobulin A (IgA) and cortisol, and to assess how these milk components correlate with infant immune and neurodevelopmental outcomes. We then compared how these associations persist over time.

METHODS: The study design involved a cohort study of exclusively breastfeeding mothers and their singleton moderately preterm (28-34 weeks) infants admitted to the NICU. We collected maternal serum, maternal saliva, and first-morning whole milk samples, and administered maternal stress questionnaires at 1 and 5 weeks postpartum. We analyzed the samples for HM IgA (using a customized immunoassay in skim milk) and for HM and salivary cortisol (using a chemiluminescent immunoassay). Infant illness was assessed using the Score for Neonatal Acute Physiology II (SNAP II) and SNAP II with Perinatal Extension (SNAPPE II), and infant neurodevelopment were assessed using the Test of Infant Motor Performance. We analyzed changes in HM IgA and cortisol over time using paired

RESULTS: In our study, we enrolled 26 dyads, with a mean maternal age of 28.1 years, consisting of 69% white, 19% Black, and 8% Hispanic. Cortisol: Salivary and HM cortisol were closely associated in week 1 but not in week 5. Though mean salivary cortisol remained stable over time [2.41 ng/mL (SD 2.43) to 2.32 (SD 1.77),

CONCLUSION: Maternal stress showed associations with HM cortisol and HM IgA. In turn, HM IgA was associated with lower measures of infant illness.

Clinical Institute

Women & Children

Clinical Institute

Mental Health


Obstetrics & Gynecology