I find the science of babies fascinating. I love seeing all the research. However, I also despair often at how society ignores it! But Netflix’s new series Babies grabbed my attention immediately. This episode has touched on many issues that are emotive for parents, including breastmilk and infant feeding, and nutrition. We recognise that parents do the best they can with the support and resources available to them. Frequently, parents are parenting in less than ideal circumstances. The changes we want to see are systemic changes to services and support for parents. Nothing written in this article is intended to be used to judge the choices of individual choices. We wholeheartedly support parents to make the decisions for their families.
Episode 2: First food
Katherine Hinde: Associate Professor of Evolutionary Biology and Senior Sustainability Scientist at Arizona State University.
Michael Georgieff, M.D.: Professor and Executive Vice Chair – Department of Pediatrics, Director – Division of Neonatology, Director – Center for Neurobehavioral Development, University of Minnesota
Dr. Susan Lynch: Director – Colitis and Crohn’s Disease Microbiome Research Core, Associate Professor University of California San Francisco
Hugo, with his parents Natasha & Adrien;
Nelson, with his parents Morning-Star & Charlie;
Mila & Lincoln, with their parents Victoria & Ryan
Food – Breastfeeding, milk, introducing solids, the microbiome, iron and brain development.
Initial thoughts: human milk and research
- I want someone to one cook paella for me
- Yes, more nursing! Also, it’s true we don’t know much about breastmilk and what it contains. Again, it’s only recently that scientists have managed to coordinate both funding and motivation to study this
- Loving the skin to skin for breastfeeding too and mum having lunch on hand. It was so hard to eat one handed!
- Kate Hinde: because of the ubiquitous presence of cows’ milk society has forgotten how special human milk is
- We research coffee more than breastmilk. I find this shocking.
- Studies milk in monkeys because they develop so much faster so she can see changes faster
- Babies feeding make the cutest noises ❤️
- Natasha sharing the thoughts of many mothers around breastfeeding. It’s sometimes just nice to carry on and not have some arbitrary cut off. 6 months seems very young when you get there
- Monkeys make different milk for sons and daughters. The milk for males has higher energy content whereas milk for females contains more minerals to support bone development.
- We know more about dairy milk than all other milks combined.
- A study into 1.5M cows showed the same relationship between sex and milk as previously noted in monkeys. Mothers of female offspring made more milk. However, we don’t know why!
- Having a daughter first is additionally linked to increased lactation yield in subsequent pregnancies. We also see this trend in humans.
- Each subsequent pregnancy further increases milk production. So if you struggled with milk production, this is likely to increase next time.
An important safety note
Bottle propping has significant safety risks because it increases the risk of aspiration of the milk. Once again, Netflix chose to not make a comment here.
Initial thoughts: the uniqueness of breastmilk
- Breastfeeding isn’t all or nothing. Breastmilk can be offered alongside formula.
- Families, especially those with circumstances outside the ‘norm’, need support to reach their breastfeeding goals
- Breastmilk is individual to each nursing relationship. It changes composition throughout the day and the lifetime of the nursing relationship. It changes according factors such as illness, new places, sleep changes and more. There are also a number of hormones influencing baby’s development, all individually tailored.
- This info is incredibly relevant. Formula isn’t there as a substitute but could be for those who need it. Parents don’t get support to achieve their breastfeeding goals because society assumes formula is ‘as good’.
- Baby’s growth isn’t solely about weight gain! It’s about weight, height, brain size and percentage growth not just the single number.
Initial thoughts: readiness for weaning
- The signs of readiness for weaning are still not widely known. Watching you eat isn’t one. They need to be able to stay upright, co-ordinate putting something in their hand into their mouth, and have lost the tongue thrust reflex. If they have attained readiness they don’t need purees, but can start on finger foods.
- Food is important, it’s social, it gives us energy, so families can be very excited to start.
- Metals are important for brain development, so iron deficiency is a concern. Foetuses stockpile iron in the womb, usually about 4 months worth of stores. However, there are things which can block this happening, for example some medications the mother takes.
Initial thoughts: nutrition and brain development
- Iron levels are related to memory development. Scientists tested memory in babies using an EEG which measures electrical activity in their brains.
- They tested babies’ reactions to both their mother’s voice and a stranger’s voice saying the same phrase. Babies with iron deficiency were less able to differentiate between their mother’s voice and a stranger’s. This demonstrates a link between iron deficiency and a different memory response.
- Whilst it’s important to introduce foods with these important metals, is is also important to follow cues with babies and food, it should be fun experimenting.
Initial thoughts: Immunity and allergies
- Babies stick everything in their mouths and, in so doing, expose themselves to microbes. This is good for the ecosystem in their gut.
- Dr Lynch’s research showed that babies exposed to dogs and cats are protected from developing some immune diseases. He studied the different microbes present in families with and without pets and compared the medical development of babies.
- Babies from homes with no pets were exposed to a lower diversity of microbes, and subsequently had a higher chance of developing asthma in childhood. Having a dog as a family pet provides both the highest microbial diversity and the lowest chance of asthma.
- They also looked at stool samples from 1 month old babies that they knew the future development of (allergies and illnesses) and identified the different bacteria
- They found three distinct gut microbiome compositions. Two were associated with a lower risk of disease and allergies. One was much higher (I really want more info on this as a family with several allergies!)
- Yay, for carrying in Slings!
- In recent generations our change in living conditions has hugely changed our interaction with microbes
- We still don’t really know what makes a microbiome ‘healthy’. Lots of things affect it but we don’t know exactly how
- But, a sterile environment is not best! Crucially, however, diversity in our microbiome helps to protect against disease
- Food is more than just calories. It’s part of who we are as humans. It affects more than we currently understand
Reflecting on the episode
Research into human milk
I found this second episode really fascinating, especially its discussion on breastmilk. Significantly, I think it is really sad that we don’t understand more about what human milk is and does. This also plays into some of what I was saying about the previous episode. People receive poor advice from health care professionals because this understanding of breastfeeding isn’t there. I am really happy the documentary is showcasing breastfeeding so much.
Kate Hinde’s research into breastmilk is amazing. Clearly, it has opened a lot of eyes to how little we know so far. I loved both hearing her talking about challenging people’s views of breastmilk being an unimportant subject of study, and also her being like ‘YES I can milk a monkey!’.
Nutrition and immunity
Food is another contentious issue. Once again, this is an area where science and societal understanding are poorly matched. Parents still aren’t clear about the signs of weaning readiness, nor when or how it is best to introduce foods.
The science here is evolving in a lot of different ways, for example, what’s the interplay between keeping iron and other mineral stores high and the gut microbiome? Are these factors clearly distinguishable? Whilst the weaning guidelines in the UK remain unchanged since 2003, it seems likely that this is an area in which research will continue to support our understanding in the coming years.
Families with a history of allergies and asthma will also be interested in the research into microbiomes. My family has numerous allergies as well as a history of childhood asthma, now part of me wonders whether we need to add a pet (we won’t!). In the future, it will be fascinating to see how such medical conditions relate to microbial exposure during infancy!
Diversity and representation
Once again, as in the first episode, it is wonderful to see a range of family structures. For example, they included blended step families, interracial relationships, twins, and bilingual families. I hope that this trend continues.
Have you watched Babies on Netflix? I would love to hear your thoughts on Episode 2! What did you find most interesting?Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in