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New Insight on Benefits of Breastfeeding

Researchers Shed Light on What Makes Breast Milk Unique
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Lower Risk for Digestion Problems

Several studies have stated that infants who are breastfed get fewer infections, but new studies are showing that breast milk also affects gene expression in the stomach cells of infants.

“We know that there are benefits, but we haven’t been able to put our finger on it and say ‘this is it,’”says Sharon M. Donovan, PhD, RD, a professor of nutrition and pediatrics at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Donavan’s research is cited in the new article.

“We have a lot of newer tools to answer some of the questions about how breastfed and formula-fed infants differ,” she says.

Her study looked at the colonization of bacteria in the infant’s gut and found that there are some differences seen in breastfed babies that may protect against diarrhea or food allergies.

What’s more, breast milk is rich in human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), which help protect infants against infection. 

“Some moms can have up to 200 different HMOs, and these are devoid in infant formulas, so the only way to get them is to add them,” she says. “We know that they are there, but we did not know about the content or diversity. The big question is whether there is a unique relationship between a mother’s HMOs and her infant.”

Building a Better Infant Formula?

Adding HMOs to formula may not have the same benefit as those found naturally in a mother’s milk, she says. “We need to better understand the unique relationship between mother and her suckling infant.”

Going forward, “we can get formulas a lot more similar to breast milk,” she says. Donavan consults with various formula companies to help them optimize their products.

“Infant formulas are continually being improved, and are the best they can be,” she says. “We are trying to identify the uniqueness in breast milk and use the information to improve infant formulas because not everyone breastfeeds or is able to breastfeed.”

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