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Breastmilk Medicine

March 28, 2014

Breastmilk contains chemical signals that depend on environmental conditions and the sex of the infant.

Transcript

A woman in Zanzibar breastfeeds and infant. (Brocken Inaglory/CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikipedia)

A woman in Zanzibar breastfeeds a child. (Brocken Inaglory/CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikipedia)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

How babies take cues from mother’s milk. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

It’s well known that breast milk is more than just nutrition for babies; it also contains compounds that boost an infant’s immune system, helping it fight off infections. Now, Harvard researcher Katie Hinde explains scientists are finding that breast milk also contains chemical signals.

HINDE:

so there are important hormones in breast milk that pass to the baby and influence their metabolism, their growth and now we’re finding, affecting their behavior.

HIRSHON:

What’s more, she’s found that in rhesus monkeys, the milk recipe varies depending on whether the infant is male or female, changes as the baby grows, and is affected by stress and other environmental conditions. She says this biochemical interplay between mother and infant likely occurs in humans as well, and may play an important role in a child’s subsequent health, both physical and emotional. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.