Glucocorticoids (GCs) measured in neonatal hair might reflect intrauterine as well as postpartum GC regulation. We aimed to identify factors associated with neonatal hair GC levels in early life, and their correlation with maternal hair GCs.
In a single-center observational study, mother–infant pairs (n = 107) admitted for >72 h at the maternity ward of a general hospital were included. At birth and an outpatient visit (OPV, n = 72, 44 ± 11 days postpartum), maternal and neonatal hair was analyzed for cortisol and cortisone levels by LC–MS/MS. Data were analyzed regarding: (1) neonatal GC levels postpartum and at the OPV, (2) associations of neonatal GC levels with maternal GC levels and (3) with other perinatal factors.
(1) Neonatal GC levels were >5 times higher than maternal levels, with a decrease in ±50% between birth and the OPV for cortisol. (2) Maternal and neonatal cortisol, but not cortisone, levels were correlated both at postpartum and at the OPV. (3) Gestational age was associated with neonatal GC postpartum (log-transformed β (95% CI): cortisol 0.07 (0.04–0.10); cortisone 0.04 (0.01–0.06)) and at the OPV (cortisol 0.08 (0.04–0.12); cortisone 0.00 (−0.04 to 0.04)), while weaker associations were found between neonatal GCs and other perinatal and maternal factors.
Neonatal hair GCs mainly reflect the third trimester increase in cortisol, which might be caused by the positive feedback loop, a placenta-driven phenomenon, represented by the positive association with GA. Between birth and 1.5 months postpartum, neonatal hair cortisol concentrations decrease sharply, but still appear to reflect both intra- and extrauterine periods.