More Milk For Baby Girls

Study: mothers give more to daughers

Is Mother’s milk all the same? New research shared at American Association for the Advancement of Science claim that mothers might be producing different breast milk for different babies, based on gender. The study helps expand our knowledge on how to feed premature children, who can’t accept their mother’s milk, and on the potential for developing specific formulas that are gender specific.

Harvard University evolutionary biologist Katie Hinde conducted her study, published in PLOS one, on rhesus monkeys, which have similar gestation biology to humans. "There's been this myth that mother's milk is pretty standard," said Hinde, a theory she hoped to dispel with her findings. As an initial discovery, Hinde found that the mother monkeys produced significantly more milk when nourishing a female baby. With that kind of evidence arousing suspicion as to how far the lactation varies from birth to birth, Hinde linked up with Kansas State University researchers to expand the data bank by examining lactation records of over 1.5 million dairy cows. “Our results provide the first direct evidence that the sex of a gestating fetus can influence milk production,” said Barry Bradford, associate professor in Kansas State’s Department of Animal Sciences and Industry. The numbers showed a 1.6% increase in the physical amount of milk production. While that might seem small at first glance, with over 300 days of a cow’s typical lactation period, it serves as a clearly quantifiable difference.

The study also brought to light that although the quality of the milk was the same regardless of the calf’s gender, the Mother still consistently produced richer milk, higher in essential fats and proteins when a daughter was born. Daughters seemed to have the most dramatic effect on the initial development of the mammary gland, because the bias against sons was greatest in the first lactation,” Bradford added.

When the question arose as to how the fetus effects milk production in the mammary glands during gestation, the link is thought to be in the hormones produced from the placenta during gestation. The hormonal variation in the bloodstream could trigger an alternative milk production based on the fetus’ gender.

If there is evidence in varying species proving that children require alternate nutrition based on their gender, Hinde and her collaborators argur that the same science can and should be transposed into human development as well. “Such a finding has potential implications for nutrition management of babies in neonatal intensive care units and selection of donor milks. And such research can inform infant formulas tailored more specifically to the physiological needs of sons and daughters,” she said.

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