A mother's postpartum stress affects the infant's health, and one possible way this stress can be transmitted is by changing the composition of breast milk. Researchers from the Netherlands decided to find out exactly how this mechanism works. They studied the effects of biological and psychological postpartum maternal stress on the composition of fatty acids in breast milk.
It is known that fatty acids are necessary for the healthy development of the child, and their insufficient amount in the diet increases the risk of various diseases later in life.
The study included young mothers aged 18 years and older who intended to breastfeed for at least the first month. The group included both mothers of healthy babies and mothers of hospitalized infants.
The women filled out a questionnaire that helped scientists determine their level of anxiety, presence of postpartum depression, and eating patterns. Hair, saliva and, naturally, breast milk samples were also collected.
The study found that postpartum maternal stress leads to lower concentrations of total, saturated, long-chain polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids in mature breast milk. And the authors believe that it is the low levels of fatty acids in breast milk that can transmit stress signals to the baby.