New Breastfeeding Research: More Baby Protections

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We have long known that vagi­nal birth and breast­feed­ing are key fac­tors in the devel­op­ment of a healthy immune sys­tem in infants. Pass­ing through the vagi­na expos­es the baby to an array of bac­te­ria that help stim­u­late its unchal­lenged immune sys­tem. Breast-fed babies receive anti-bod­ies, pro­teins and oth­er mol­e­cules that pro­tect it from infec­tion and teach the immune sys­tem to defend the infant.

Breast­feed­ing is key for long-term health.

Recent research at UC Davis has shown that a strain of the bifi­do bac­te­ria — acquired from the moth­er — thrives on com­plex sug­ars (large­ly lac­tose) that were pre­vi­ous­ly thought to be indi­gestible. The bac­teri­um coats the lin­ing of the imma­ture diges­tive tract and pro­tects it from nox­ious bac­te­ria.

This com­bi­na­tion of inter­ac­tions affects the com­po­si­tion of bac­te­ria in the infant gut as it matures. Anoth­er exam­ple of how evo­lu­tion has “invent­ed” the per­fect nutri­tion for infants, this research con­tributes to the notion that evo­lu­tion has select­ed for many genes that serve nor­mal birth and breast­feed­ing by pro­tect­ing the new­born. Inter­ven­ing with the nor­mal pro­gres­sion of birth and breast­feed­ing — while occa­sion­al­ly nec­es­sary — inter­rupts these ben­e­fi­cial adap­ta­tions and con­tributes to aller­gies and autoim­mune dis­or­ders.