After birth, breastfeeding is the exclusive source of hormonal signaling between mother and infant. Hospitalized infants often receive donor milk when their own mother’s milk is unavailable.
The presence of insulin, leptin, cortisol, progesterone, and testosterone was examined in samples from milk bank donors and mothers of preterm infants. We further investigated the effect of Holder pasteurization (HoP) on hormone levels.
Comparing nonpasteurized samples, leptin levels were nearly threefold higher in milk from mothers of preterm infants versus donated milk, and regardless of milk source, leptin levels were significantly decreased by HoP. Insulin concentrations were also decreased by HoP, and among mothers of preterm infants, obesity was associated with significantly higher content of leptin and insulin. While combined use of donor milk and HoP was associated with cortisol levels nearly threefold higher than those in nonpasteurized own mother’s milk, progesterone and testosterone content did not differ by source or pasteurization.
The hormonal composition of breast milk is impacted by HoP and maternal obesity. Compared to nonpasteurized maternal milk, use of pasteurized donor milk dramatically decreases the intake of leptin while increasing the intake of cortisol. Further research is necessary to define optimal breast milk processing practices.