Maternal country of birth and previous pregnancies are associated with breast milk characteristics

Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2009 Feb;20(1):19-29. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-3038.2008.00754.x. Epub 2008 May 15.


Populations in high infectious exposure countries are at low risk of some immune-mediated diseases such as Crohn's disease and allergy. This low risk is maintained upon immigration to an industrialized country, but the offspring of such immigrants have a higher immune-mediated disease risk than the indigenous population. We hypothesize that early life exposures in a developing country shape the maternal immune system, which could have implications for the offspring born in a developed country with a low infectious load. The aim of this study was to investigate if exposures in childhood (indicated by country of origin) and subsequent exposures influence immunologic characteristics relevant to stimulation of offspring. Breast milk components among 64 mothers resident in Sweden, 32 of whom immigrated from a developing country, were examined using the ELISA and Cytometric Bead Array methods. Immigrants from a developing country had statistically significantly higher levels of breast milk interleukin-6 (IL-6), IL-8 and transforming growth factor-beta1. A larger number of previous pregnancies were associated with down-regulation of several substances, statistically significant for soluble CD14 and IL-8. The results suggest that maternal country of birth may influence adult immune characteristics, potentially relevant to disease risk in offspring. Such a mechanism may explain the higher immune-mediated disease risk among children of migrants from a developing to developed country. Older siblings may influence disease risk through the action of previous pregnancies on maternal immune characteristics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Emigrants and Immigrants*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / epidemiology*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Interleukin-6 / analysis
  • Interleukin-6 / immunology
  • Interleukin-8 / analysis
  • Interleukin-8 / immunology
  • Lipopolysaccharide Receptors / analysis
  • Lipopolysaccharide Receptors / immunology
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure*
  • Milk, Human / immunology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta1 / analysis
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta1 / immunology


  • CXCL8 protein, human
  • Interleukin-6
  • Interleukin-8
  • Lipopolysaccharide Receptors
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta1