Women's Health

The Benefits of Breastfeeding

The Benefits of Breastfeeding

Key Takeaways

  •  Breast milk for boys had more fat and protein when compared to what girls get.

An article published in the journal, Nature, has shed light on to what makes breastfeeding unique and beneficial. Although breastfeeding is recommended and followed for the first six months of a child's life, the present reports show insights on some of the unique benefits of breastfeeding. Journalist Anna Petherick writes that the diverse ingredients present in breast milk have a significant impact in the life of the child, and even if we try hard to copy the contents, the trace constituents of breast milk may be still lacking in infant formula.

Promotion of Breastfeeding Intervention Trial (PROBIT), report that 6-year-olds who were breast fed had higher IQ scores when compared to those whose moms did not breastfeed. Researchers feel that this may be due to the specific genes in human milk.

The article also pointed to a difference in the breast milk according to the gender – breast milk for boys had more fat and protein when compared to what girls get. Ginna Wall, coordinator of lactation services at University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, finds this difference fascinating. She says that boys grow faster than girls, and this may be due to the difference in the milk, or it is also possible that breast milk is responding to the difference in the requirements of the child. She feels that the difference may be due to the difference in the suckling of the child, even though they don’t look different when they are nursing.

Barbara Holmes, a lactation specialist at New York University Langone Medical Center, says that what it means is unknown. She agrees that preterm babies get different milk when compared to toddlers and bigger babies. It is possible that the body known what type of milk to be produced when the baby sucks, she explains. Long-term studies may be able to explain the difference better, she feels.

Earlier studies had shown that breastfeeding reduces the chances of infection, but new studies have shown that breastfeeding may affect the expression of genes in the stomach cells of infants. Sharon M. Donovan, PhD, RD, a professor of nutrition and pediatrics at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, says that we have always known the benefits of breastfeeding but were not able to pinpoint what it is due to. She says that there are a number of new tools, which may help us to find the difference between breastfed and formula fed infants.

Donovan and colleagues compared the colonization of bacteria in the gut of breastfed and infant formula fed babies and found certain differences in breastfed babies which may provide them protection against diarrhea and food allergies. Moreover, breast milk is rich in human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) which may provide protection against infections. Some mothers may have up to 200 different types of HMOs which may be lacking in infant formulas.

She explains that we do know about the presence of HMOs in breast milk but we are unaware of content or diversity. It is not known whether there is a relationship between a mother’s HMO and the child. Furthermore, adding HMO’s to the infant formula may not have the same effect as is provided by the natural milk, she adds. One needs to understand the relationship between mother and her suckling infant.