Breast milk oxytocin and s-IgA modulate infant biomarkers and social engagement; The role of maternal anxiety

Orna Zagoory-Sharon, Karen Yirmiya, Itai Peleg, Ortal Shimon-Raz, Rachel Sanderlin, Ruth Feldman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Breastfeeding has long been known to improve infants' health and mental development and to enhance the mother-infant bond, but much less research focused on the biological composition of breast milk and its associations with the infant's biomarkers and social development. In this exploratory study, we measured oxytocin (OT) and secretory immunoglobulin-A (s-IgA), the most abundant antibody in breast milk, and evaluated their associations with the same biomarkers in infant saliva and, consequently, with infant social engagement behavior. Fifty-five mother-infant dyads were home-visit and OT and s-IgA were assessed from breast milk and from infant saliva before and after a free-play interaction. Infant social behavior was coded offline using the Coding Interactive Behavior (CIB) and maternal anxiety self-reported. A path model revealed that mother's breast milk s-IgA impacted child social engagement via its links with child OT. In parallel, maternal breast milk OT was linked with infant social behavior through its association with the infant's immunity. This path was moderated by maternal anxiety; only in cases of high anxiety breast milk OT was positively connected to infant s-IgA. Our study, the first to measure OT and s-IgA in both breast milk and infant saliva in relation to observed social behavior, underscores the need for much further research on the dynamic interplay between breast milk composition, infant biomarkers, maternal mental health, and infant social outcomes. Results may suggest that biological systems in breast milk integrate to prepare infants to function in their social ecology through bio-behavioral feedback loops that signal the degree of stress in the environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100219
JournalComprehensive Psychoneuroendocrinology
StatePublished - Feb 2024
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors


The study was supported by the Simms/Mann Foundation Chair to Ruth Feldman and by the Bezos Family Foundation.

FundersFunder number
Bezos Family Foundation
Simms/Mann Foundation


    • Anxiety
    • Breast milk
    • Mother-infant interaction
    • Oxytocin
    • Secretory immunoglobulin-A (s-IgA)
    • Social behavior


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