A mother's milk, also known as liquid gold, has many known benefits for both mothers and babies such as decreased risks of developing type 1 diabetes, obesity and allergies. New research suggests breast milk also affects a child's social behavior even after weaning.
Researchers from the United States (U.S.) National Institute of Child Health and Human Development looked into cortisol's effect on breast milk. The study involved 26 female rhesus monkey infants. The team found the cortisol levels of breastfed babies to be less impulsive even when they reach the age of six months.
Breast milk contains the stress hormone called cortisol that affects social behavior. In the male infants, the team found a connection between high cortisol levels and reduced instigation of social behaviors such as play and grooming. In order to test the impulsivity levels of the breastfed infants, they were lured with marshmallows.
"Collectively, our results point to a role for hormones in mother's milk, beginning at birth, in subsequent infant neurological and behavioural development. Future studies will be able to draw upon these results to determine the mechanisms of this type of programming," wrote the researchers.
Led by US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's Dr. Amanda Dettmer, the paper was presented at the annual Society of Neuroscience meeting in Chicago.
The researchers believe that further studying breast milk's effect can help discover the biological process of brain development. Furthermore, findings will help in the development of improved formula milk that could mimic the same effects.
Breast milk is the milk produced by a human mother's breasts (mammary glands). A human infant relies on milk as the primary source of nutrition prior to the introduction of solid foods, which is usually taken at the age of six months. Mothers can opt to continue giving breast milk to their infants and toddler either exclusively or combined with solid foods.
Breast milk is the best and superior food source for infants. Its list of benefits include high protection against common infant illnesses such as influenza, pneumonia and diarrhea, and high survival rate especially during the first few months of life which leads to decreased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
For mothers, breastfeeding has been known to improve post-delivery recovery and weight loss. It also lowers chances of developing postpartum depression and diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and breast cancer.