Stressed mothers are less likely to breastfeed which may affect the child in later stages of life.


Pregnancy is the time during which one or more offspring develop inside a woman and this precious phase of life also comes with its own challenges. Prenatal anxiety is one such challenge where pregnant mothers experience stress and/or anxiety. It impacts both the mother and child. One such short-term effect is on breastfeeding. Various studies have shown that stressed mothers usually do not breastfeed their new-born. In long term, it can affect child growth and onset of puberty. This study also looks at how various external factors like economic resources that might influence breastfeeding. In human studies, formula milk might be used as substitute to breast milk, because of which linking non-human animal studies is difficult.


Mothers self-reported with high prenatal anxiety levels were less likely to breastfeed their new-born. They also found that growth was faster in infants who were never breastfed or breastfed for less than six months. Another interesting finding from the study was that girls who were breastfed for more than six months are likely to reach puberty later than those who weren’t breastfed at all. High maternal stress leads to less milk production. Cortisol levels had no role to play in relation to anxiety and breast feeding.


There is a strong negative relation between stress and breastfeeding. The effect of prenatal anxiety on the growth of the child or onset of puberty is minimal. In contrast, breastmilk is known to nourish and strengthen a new-born. But high stress levels can lead to reduced milk production which can have greater impact on the development of the child. With formula milk acting as substitute which also can depend on its nutritional value. In the end, these changes will directly depend on the amount of maternal stress the infant was exposed to early in life. Family members, health authorities must give utmost care and support in order to help mothers feel less stressful during pregnancy. Entry by Deeksha Natraj


Evolutionary medicine

Subject Group

Zoology and Ecology






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on Thu Aug 18 2022

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Details of original research article:

English S, Wright I, Ashburn V, Ford G, Caramaschi D. Prenatal anxiety, breastfeeding and child growth and puberty: linking evolutionary models with human cohort studies. Annals of Human Biology. 2020;47:106-115.


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