Aug 21, 2002

Lactation and stress: protective effects of breast-feeding in humans

Stress : the International Journal on the Biology of Stress
Markus HeinrichsUlrike Ehlert

Abstract

Whilst most research on breast-feeding has been designed to assess its importance for infant health or to find a human nutrient replacement for infant formula, the effects of breast-feeding on maternal health have received little scientific attention. In several animal studies lactation has been shown to be associated with a marked blunting of physiological and behavioral responses to physical and psychological stress. However, the literature on the effects of lactation on stress in humans remains limited. This review focuses primarily on recent findings on the effects of breast-feeding on neuroendocrine and behavioral responses to acute stress exposure in lactating women. The available data suggest that breast-feeding suppresses the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis response to physical and psychosocial stress. However, lactation in women, in contrast to lactating rats, does not seem to result in a general restraint of the endocrine stress response during the whole period of lactation. Recent data strongly suggest that the blunted HPA axis response to stress in women seems to be counterbalanced if the acute stressor, at least when of a psychosocial nature, occurs later than 1 h after suckling. Further elucidation of th...Continue Reading

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Mentioned in this Paper

Biological Adaptation to Stress
Pituitary Diseases
Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System
Neurosecretory Systems
Endocrine System
Breast Feeding
Lactation
Adrenal Glands
Pituitary Hormonal Agents
Pituitary-Adrenal System

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