Episode 2: “First Food”

The second episode, titled “First Food,” introduces the importance of food for babies. A narrator describes that food impacts the immune system of babies and another questions how the nutrients they receive shape their lives. In Phoenix, Dr. Katie Hinde, an anthropologist at Arizona State University, explains her interest in breast milk. Dr. Hinde describes that mothers “nourish, protect, and guide” their babies through their milk. Dr. Hinde remembers being dissuaded from studying breastmilk, but explains she stuck with her curiosity and studied the breast milk of monkeys. Next, Dr. Hinde details a discovery of patterns of “richer, more energetically dense” milk for sons and higher calcium-phosphorus ratios for daughters. She explains that skeletal development is faster in females as they reach adulthood faster than males. Dr. Hinde researched this phenomenon in over a million dairy cows and found, after cows have daughters, they produce significantly more milk than if they have a son, for reasons still unknown.

A British mother describes how much she enjoys breastfeeding and how she does not know how she will calm her baby after she stops breastfeeding him. A mother of twins in Connecticut explains why she stopped breastfeeding after not being able to provide enough milk for both babies. Dr. Hinde confirms that the best option after breastmilk is formula designed with the science of human breastmilk rather than cow’s milk. She then details that “an individual mom makes individualized milk for an individual baby,” and that daily experiences leave signatures in their milk. Mothers can increase their antibodies to go into milk to help their babies fight infections when they sense that the baby is ill. Dr. Hinde points out that hormones travel from the mother to the baby through milk, allowing for a “conversation.”

At the University of Minnesota Institute of Child Development, Dr. Michael Georgieff details his early research, where he discovered that many babies were deficient in metals such as iron, zinc, and copper, which are important in brain development. Babies are born with enough iron to last them around four months, but in some mothers with health conditions, not enough iron was transferred in the womb. Babies are studied using an EEG to see if their memory system allows them to determine whether their mother or a stranger is speaking. Babies with sufficient iron are more able to differentiate between the two voices than iron-deficient babies, indicating a more efficient hippocampus. Dr. Georgieff also claims that getting rid of metal deficiencies in billions of people around the world would “shift the world’s IQ positively by ten points.”Finally he says that the nutrients we consume both inside and outside the womb build our personalities and who we are as people.

In San Francisco, Dr. Susan Lynch, a professor in the Department of Medicine at UCSF, explains that it is very important for babies to ingest microbes from a young age. Human gut microbiomes are quite complex and can be used to predict whether babies will go on to live a healthy life. Dr. Lynch explains a study that showed that early exposure to dogs and cats protected babies from immune diseases. Using dust from households, Dr. Lynch analyzed the microbial DNA and determined that in houses with no pets, there was less bacterial exposure. Stool samples from one-month-old babies were analyzed for patterns of microbial gut colonization, revealing three distinct patterns, two of which were associated with lower chance of developing allergies and asthma. Therefore, a sterile environment is not healthy for a baby’s future, and environments with lots of microbes are protective against disease in childhood. To conclude, Dr. Hinde declares that food is a core part of human culture, and when babies begin to eat solid food, they are joining the family.

We have all heard the phrase “breast is best” but the evidence behind this is not so widespread. This episode, along with material from class, indicates how human breastfeeding gives benefits to babies. A scholarly article titled “ Breastfeeding protects against illness and infection in infants and children: a review of the evidence,” offers more detail to the general information laid out in class and the documentary, explaining how components of breastmilk such as protein and oligosaccharides provide protection for babies against disease (Oddy 2001). The author uses evidence of protection against illness from breastfeeding in order to assert, “it is now clear that human milk is precisely engineered for the human infant,” a theory we have discussed in class (11). Dr. Katie Hinde spoke about the ability of a mother’s body to detect illness in their baby and to produce antibodies to protect against viruses and bacteria, clearly indicating that breastmilk is specialized for each individual child and that mothers are the best source of food for their children.