Published: Aug. 27, 2012
Updated: Aug. 27, 2012
The benefits of breast milk for baby health have long been appreciated, but now researchers at Duke University Medical Center are learning some of the reasons why. A new Duke study finds that mother’s milk causes essential bacteria in baby’s digestive tract to grow in a way that is more beneficial to baby’s health than the bacterial growth caused by infant formulas.
The study found that only breast milk causes bacteria in the baby’s digestive system to form biofilms—thin layers of bacteria that may serve as a shield against pathogens and infections. These protective biofilms also appear to aid nutrient absorption and immunesystem development.
Dr. William Parker - Associate Professor of Surgery at Duke and lead author of a recent study on breast milk:"What we’re finding out is that the breast milk is feeding the baby’s bacteria in such a way that the bacteria grow in a particular pattern that you don’t find in other sources of infant nutrition.“
Earlier studies have shown that breast milk lowers the incidence of diarrhea, the flu and respiratory infections during infancy, while protecting against the later development of allergies, type 1 diabetes, MS and other illnesses.
Carleen McKenna made the decision to breastfeed her baby Elle, thanks in part to the long list of benefits breast milk offers.
Carleen McKenna: “There’s a lot of protein in that early milk, and it’s really easy for her to digest, and it has a lot of antibodies and factors that protect her health and develop her immune system. I know that it’s got a lot of good fats in there to help her put weight on, which is very important for us.” “I know that the effects of her breastfeeding early-on are gonna stay with her for life.”
Dr. William Parker – Associate Professor of Surgery at Duke: “Together the bacteria and the baby develop. The idea here is that the mother’s milk is very important for how the bacteria develop, and probably therefore important for how the baby develops. So the main thing about this study, hopefully, is that for those people who absolutely cannot give breast milk, and there is a significant number, that we can try to make a better infant formula.”
Next, Dr. Parker and his colleagues are interested in why milk from dairy cows does not have thesame effect as breast milk. They are also interested in promoting breast feeding, and for cases where mother’s milk cannot be provided, fostering the development of better infant formulas based on their findings.