In April 2018, UNICEF Canada, the world’s leading child-focused humanitarian organization, featured CHILD Study research results in a campaign aimed at improving parental leave policies in Canada.
The research, led by AllerGen investigator Dr. Anita Kozyrskyj (University of Alberta), was published in November 2017 in Brain, Behavior and Immunity.
It found that infants born to mothers experiencing psychological distress (stress, depression, anxiety) had reduced levels of an important immune antibody in their feces in the first few months of life, which may put them at a higher risk of developing allergic disease.
Dr. Kozyrskyj and first author AllerGen HQP Liane Kang showed that, regardless of breastfeeding status and other maternal factors:
- When mothers experienced distress both during and after pregnancy (prenatal and postnatal), their infants were three times as likely to have reduced levels of secretory Immunoglobulin A, or sIgA, (an important immune antibody found in an infant’s gut) as infants whose mothers were not distressed; and
- When mothers experienced distress only during pregnancy (prenatal), their infants had lower sIgA levels than infants whose mothers were not distressed.
Their findings, which suggest that programs and policies to support the psychosocial wellbeing of mothers during and after pregnancy are important in shaping the immune health of newborns, were used by UNICEF to support a call for improvements to parental leave policies and early childhood education programming.
“CHILD research is helping to inform UNICEF’s efforts to advocate for better child and family policies, including parental leave take-up that will help more mothers continue breastfeeding and keep more babies healthy”, says UNICEF’S Director of Policy and Research, Lisa Wolff.