Steroid hormone concentrations in milk predict sex-specific offspring growth in a nonhuman primate

Lauren Petrullo, Katie Hinde, Amy Lu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Objectives: In humans and other mammals, maternal hormones are transferred to offspring during lactation via milk and may regulate postnatal development, including the pace of early growth. Here, we used a nonhuman primate model to test the hypotheses that milk cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate (DHEAS) concentrations reflect maternal characteristics, and that changes in these hormones across lactation are associated with early postnatal growth rates. Methods: Demographic information, morphometrics, and milk samples were collected from rhesus macaque mothers and their infants at the California National Primate Research Center in Davis, California. Using linear models, we examined the relationship between maternal traits and milk hormone concentrations (N = 104 females) and explored the effect of milk hormones on the rate of offspring growth (N = 72 mother-infant dyads), controlling for available milk energy. Results: Contrary to previous studies, we found that milk cortisol concentrations were categorically higher in multiparous females than in primiparous females. However, milk DHEAS concentrations decreased with maternal parity. Neither milk cortisol nor DHEAS were related to maternal rank. Finally, changes in milk hormones predicted offspring growth in a sex-specific and temporal manner: increases in cortisol from peak to late lactation predicted faster female growth, and increases in DHEAS concentrations from early to peak and peak to late lactation predicted faster male growth. Conclusions: Our findings shed light on how hormonal components of milk have sex-specific effects on offspring growth during early postnatal life with varying temporal windows of sensitivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere23315
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Anthropology
  • Genetics


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