Lactational programming? Mother's milk energy predicts infant behavior and temperament in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta)

Katie Hinde, John P. Capitanio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


There are many aspects of "mothering" that may provide information to the mammalian infant about environmental conditions during critical periods of development. One essential element of mothering involves the quantity and quality of milk that mothers provide for their infants, but little is known about the consequences of variation in milk production. Mother's milk may affect infant behavior by contributing to brain development and to the development of behavioral dispositions. Here we present the first evidence for any mammal that natural variation in available milk energy (AME) from the mother is associated with later variation in infant behavior and temperament in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta, N5 59). In the early postnatal period, heavier mothers with more reproductive experience produced greater AME, which is the product of milk energy density (kcal/g) and milk yield (g). Moreover, infants whose mothers produced greater AME in the early postnatal period showed higher activity levels and greater confidence in a stressful setting later in infancy. Our results suggest that the milk energy available soon after birth may be a nutritional cue that calibrates the infant's behavior to environmental or maternal conditions. These data provide new insight into potential mechanisms for the development of behavior and temperament and illuminate new directions for investigating maternal effects, nutritional programming, and developmental plasticity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)522-529
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Behavioral syndromes
  • Infant development
  • Lactation
  • Nutritional programming
  • Personality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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