Doctors have been urging new moms to breastfeed for a long time, and still many women decide to use formula instead. A new study suggests that exposing infants to their mothers' milk improves their immune system, and leads to the development of a different type of gut flora than formula does.
This is very important for protecting the little ones from infections and illnesses. Promoting the development of specific species of bacteria inside the gut is a trait unique to human milk, researchers say, and cannot be mimicked by artificial substances.
The study was led by experts at the Duke University Medical Center, who published details of their investigation in the August issue of the esteemed scientific journal Current Nutrition & Food Science.
Scientists with the research group say that the colonies of microbiotic flora that develop following breastfeeding are much more effective at aiding nutrient absorption than the ones whose development is promoted by formula. The development of the immune system is also promoted, they add.
“This study is the first we know of that examines the effects of infant nutrition on the way that bacteria grow, providing insight to the mechanisms underlying the benefits of breast feeding over formula feeding for newborns,” says William Parker, PhD.
“Only breast milk appears to promote a healthy colonization of beneficial biofilms, and these insights suggest there may be potential approaches for developing substitutes that more closely mimic those benefits in cases where breast milk cannot be provided,” he adds.
The expert holds an appointment as a Duke associate professor of surgery at Duke. He was also the senior author of the study. Statistically speaking, breastfeeding lowers the incidence of respiratory infection, influenza and diarrhea in infants.
In the long run, it provides increased protection against several other illnesses, including type I diabetes, allergies and multiple sclerosis. In other words, the new research revealed just how important infants' early diets are, Science Blog
At this point, the exact mechanisms through which milk contributes to the formation of bacterial biofilms are unknown. The team says that these pathways will constitute the target of a future study.
“Knowing how breast milk conveys its benefits could help in the development of infant formulas that better mimic nature. This could have a long-lasting effect on the health of infants who, for many reasons, may not get mother’s milk,” Parker explains.