We have seen multiple studies which indicate that postpartum depression (PPD) interferes with breastfeeding. Postpartum women who suffer from depression are less likely to breastfeed, and they typically breastfeed for a shorter duration than women who are not depressed. A recent study looks at an entirely different question, asking whether postpartum stress affects the quality of the breast milk. In this study, the researchers focused on levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA) in the breast milk. (Immunoglobulins or antibodies are passed from the mother to the baby through the breast milk and help to confer immunity.)
81 mothers who delivered at an urban hospital were included in the analysis. Two weeks after delivery, breast milk IgA levels were measured. At the same time, the mothers’ psychological state was assessed using the Profile of Mood States (POMS), General Health Questionnaire (GHQ), and State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) scales.
Breast milk IgA levels were negatively correlated with negative psychological states. The women who reported higher levels of negative affect and/or anxiety (as measured with the POMS scales of tension-anxiety, depression-dejection, anger-hostility, fatigue, and confusion) had lower levels of breast milk IgA. Similar negative correlations were observed with the two other measurements of psychological stress used in this study (GHQ and STAI).
These results indicate that the maternal psychological state may affect the immune properties of breast milk. While the authors did not specifically assess for major depression, it suggests that milder forms of psychological distress may have a negative impact on the immune properties of the breast milk.
Ruta Nonacs, MD PhD
Kawano A, Emori Y. The Relationship Between Maternal Postpartum Psychological State and Breast Milk Secretory Immunoglobulin A Level. J Am Psychiatr Nurses Assoc. 2015 Jan 14.