Carmen Marie Hove

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

California, Santa Barbara, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 10004

Approve Date

August 26, 2020

Project Title

Hove, Carmen (California, Santa Barbara, U. of) "Investigating time-dependent effects of breastfeeding behavior on maternal immune regulation and perceived somatic health."

CARMEN HOVE, then a graduate student at University of California, Santa Barbara, California, received a grant in August 2020 to aid research on ‘Investigating Time-dependent Effects of Breastfeeding Behavior on Maternal Immune Regulation and Perceived Somatic Health,’ supervised by Dr. Amy Boddy. Skin-to-skin breastfeeding evolved as bi-directional relationship between mother and infant, resulting in opportunities for both congruence and conflict. With the invention of infant formula and rudimentary breast pumps, the 19th century introduced evolutionarily novel alternatives to skin-to-skin breastfeeding that are now commonly used across numerous populations. While the ill-effects of curtailed breastfeeding on infant immune development and health outcomes are well-known, the consequences for maternal immune function and short-term morbidity are comparatively understudied. Using a sample of 96 mothers living in the US, this study tests two main hypotheses: 1) the degree to which skin-to-skin breastfeeding is preserved (i.e., proportion of infant feedings delivered via breastfeeding) will correspond to reduced inflammatory activation and better self-reported health; and 2) these benefits will be strongest in the early postpartum period, when infant and maternal optimums are most likely to overlap. Study results indicate that mothers who report a greater proportion of infant feeding bouts using at-the-nipple breastfeeding exhibit fewer symptoms of depression and physical illness as well as reduced inflammation and more optimal diurnal immune cycling. Findings also indicate that these benefits are generally most robust in the early postpartum period, indicating that breastfeeding behavior exerts time-dependent effects on maternal immune status and health.