Quirks & Quarks

Mother's Milk and Mind Control

Breast milk contains a range of molecules that manipulate baby's intestinal bacteria, some of which might affect the developing brain.

Breast milk contains mind-altering substances

"The Amiable Mother" by Robert Sayer (Wellcome Library, London, cc-by-4.0)
Breast milk is a rich mixture of everything an infant needs to grow and thrive. But it also contains a host of molecules that are not meant for baby, but for the bacteria -- in the child's gut.

Dr. Katie Hinde, an assistant professor of Human Evolutionary Biology and director of the Comparative Lactation Lab, at Harvard University, studies breast milk. Her work suggests that by supporting and feeding gut bacteria in their infants, mothers are cultivating their children's' vital internal "microbial gardens," which help with things like digestion and the development of the immune system.

But she also thinks that there is a connection between these bacteria and brain development and behaviour, which means that mothers are subtly influencing their babies' minds, through their milk and microbes.

Related Links

- Paper in Evolution, Medicine and Public Health
Not Exactly Rocket Science blog
​- Dr. Hinde previously on Quirks & Quarks