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Breastfeeding: Foundation of Life

World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every year from August 1 – 7 across the globe to encourage breastfeeding and promote healthy practices from the earliest stages of life. This campaign is led by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), a global network of organizations and individuals who work to promote and support breastfeeding practices worldwide. The 2018 slogan is “Breastfeeding: Foundation for Life”.

“In a world filled with inequality, crises and poverty, breastfeeding is the foundation of lifelong good health for babies and mothers.”

Latest Research on Breastfeeding

ASN’s four nutrition science journals often publish new research on breastfeeding, and there were many sessions on the topic at ASN’s annual meeting, Nutrition 2018. ASN also ensures the representation and support of breastfeeding research within our membership and scientific programs through a dedicated research interest section, Maternal, Perinatal, and Pediatric Nutrition. Members who belong to this group focus on the biology of nutrition as it impacts human development, and the role of nutrition on both short-and long-term outcomes in the mother, fetus, infant, and child.

New Research on Breastfeeding from American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Breastfeeding newborns and infants: some new food for thought about an old practice

“Feeding newborns and infants is hardly a new topic, but these 2 articles provide some important new food for thought, and hopefully might stimulate appetite for studying how breastfeeding and human milk confer unique advantages on infant growth and development, as well as prevention of later life diseases such as obesity, which are programmed early in life.”

Breastfeeding duration, maternal body mass index, and birth weight are associated with differences in body mass index growth trajectories in early childhood

Infant feeding and growth: putting the horse before the cart

Current Knowledge on Micronutrients in Human Milk: Adequacy, Analysis, and Need for Research

This free supplement was published with the May 2018 issue of Advances in Nutrition. Articles included are:

Introduction to Current Knowledge on Micronutrients in Human Milk: Adequacy, Analysis, and Need for Research

Overview of Nutrients in Human Milk

Limitations of the Evidence Base Used to Set Recommended Nutrient Intakes for Infants and Lactating Women

Micronutrients in Human Milk: Analytical Methods

Retinol-to-Fat Ratio and Retinol Concentration in Human Milk Show Similar Time Trends and Associations with Maternal Factors at the Population Level: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Iodine in Human Milk: A Systematic Review

Vitamin B-12 in Human Milk: A Systematic Review

Breastfeeding and the Microbiome

ASN Fellow Dr. David Heber recently published a video Microbiome #3: Getting it Started. This is what he says:

“The Microbiome is established in the gut during breast feeding. While some bacteria enter the body during delivery and from the mother’s skin, the majority are formed from a special group of complex carbohydrates called Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMO’s). There are about 150 HMO’s and they feed a single bacterial species called Bacteroides Infantilis which has a series of pumps on its surface bringing these sugars called oligosaccharides inside the cell to be digested. This bacteria is called an “inside” eater and does not share the HMO’s with other bacteria so it becomes the dominant bacteria in the gut Microbiome setting up the baby’s immune system. The breast milk has protein, fat, and lactose (the same sugar in cow’s milk) but is unique in having the 150 HMO’s. This is another reason why it is so important for women to breast feed their babies. Breastfeeding also removes 500 Calories per day from the Mom’s body helping with reducing pregnancy weight gain. During breast feeding women need to get extra protein, Calcium, vitamin D and B vitamins to replace what is being put out in breast milk!!”

Video shared with Dr. David Heber’s permission.

Does Breastfeeding Make You Smarter?

Good nutrition has been shown to help with survival, growth, mental development, health, and well-being across one’s lifespan. Unearthing precisely what to eat to help achieve maximal benefit has been the subject of many research studies and debates, especially regarding childhood nutrition starting at an early age.

Breastfeeding has been recognized for its ability to provide infants with essential nutrients to help with growth and development. Research has shown there are many benefits associated with breastfeeding, such as building a healthy gut microbiota and increasing the bond between mother and child. The child benefits from the nutrients found in breast milk, such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid, omega-3 and -6 fatty acids essential for cognitive development. Somewhere down the line the notion that breastfeeding can make your baby smarter has been perpetuated. However, this has not yet been proven.

Researchers from the University College Dublin in Ireland conducted a study to investigate the impact of breastfeeding on children’s cognitive development. Around 8,000 families from the Growing Up in Ireland longitudinal infant cohort were randomly selected to participate. Data was collected when the child was 9 months old, 3 years old, and 5 years old. Questionnaires were used to measure children’s cognitive abilities, expressive vocabulary, and problem behaviors, and breastfeeding data was collected as retrospective self-report from the mothers. Propensity score matching, instrument variables, and sibling pair models were used for the analysis. The “breastfed” and “never breastfed” groups were matched based on infant, mother, and family-level factors, such as birth weight and maternal age.

Children who were breastfed scored higher on the problem-solving scale. However, after adjusting for potential confounders, this result was found to be no longer significant. This means other factors, such as socioeconomic status, could better explain the variability here. Breastfed children had lower parent-rated hyperactivity compared with controls after the adjustment, but this effect was only seen at 3 years of age. This may mean that breastfeeding helps reduce hyperactivity in the short term, but this effect was not maintained. Although the researchers found no evidence to support that breastfeeding helps improve cognitive abilities, they did note that their study did not contradict any of the medical benefits of breastfeeding. Research on breastfeeding will continue to be done and hopefully we will see more positive findings emerge in this area. For now, the current World Health Organization recommendation for breastfeeding is to exclusively breastfeed for the first 6 months of a child’s life, if you are able.

 

References:

Girard L, Doyle O, Tremblay RE. Breastfeeding, Cognitive and Noncognitive Development in Early Childhood: A Population Study. Pediatrics. 2017;139(4):e20161848. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1848