Back to work after maternity leave: Consequences for infant development?


For many mothers worldwide, the first months after giving birth are not only dominated by nurturing and nursing their infant, but coincide with a transition back to work. Although research indicates that women perceive work resumption primarily as stressful, the possible consequences of work resumption stress for infants are unknown. As exposure to early adversity carries risk of poor health across the lifespan, my aim is to investigate whether, how, and under which conditions maternal work resumption stress affects infant development.
According to the Spillover-crossover model, the mechanism through which maternal work resumption stress would affect the child is through its impact on parenting quality. I argue that maternal work resumption stress can also affect the child through its impact on nutrition quality. My research questions are whether work resumption stress affects infant development through: RQ1) parenting quality, i.e. positive and negative parenting behaviors, and RQ2) nutrition quality, i.e. breastfeeding duration and breast milk composition.
I hypothesize that infant development is affected by work resumption stress through two different pathways: reduced parenting quality and reduced nutrition quality. Furthermore, I hypothesize that positive resumption experiences and partner support buffer the negative effects of work resumption stress on parenting and nutrition quality.
This project will longitudinally follow 150 infants and their mothers who resume their work between 10 and 16 weeks postpartum. I will apply research methods from several disciplines, including mother-infant observations and state-of-the-art methods to analyse cortisol and immune parameters in milk.
Low parenting and nutrition quality contribute to a lifetime risk for developing many diseases, such as depression, obesity and cardiovascular diseases. However, it is unknown whether maternal work resumption stress affects parenting, nutrition, and subsequent infant development. My findings will inform science and society to provide infants with the best possible start in life.





Dr. R. Beijers

Verbonden aan

Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Faculteit der Sociale Wetenschappen, Behavioural Science Institute - BSI


Dr. R. Beijers


01/05/2019 tot 31/12/2022