The newborn babies who are fed with infant formulas are becoming sick more frequently and are four times more prone to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) as compared to babies who are breast-fed. The statistical analyses made in the US have shown that, if fed solely by breast milk instead of infant formulas, deaths of at least 9000 infants will be prevented annually. A vitally important feature of the breast milk is that its contents are being dynamically and precisely formulated in direct proportion to the development and as per the needs of the baby, whereas baby foods and formulas do not have such a feature. The taurine amino acid, which is vital for the development of the brain and eye, are abundantly available in the breast milk.
The breast milk, which is recommended to breast-feed for up to two years, is special because of its various aspects: it has a unique chemical composition; the lightly yellow-colored alkaline milk (colostrum) generated right after giving birth is very helpful in protecting the newborns from infections and diseases; mammary (milk) glands operate on a very fine time adjustment and they have a perfect developmental coordination; its prevention against lymphoma, which is a kind of cancer, and its feature of leading cancerous cells to programmed cell death (apoptosis); adjustment of the quantities of minerals and trace elements in milk-generating cells of the mother in accordance with the needs of and in proportion to the growth of the infant; breast-feeding has positive effect on the infant's IQ development.
Nevertheless, newly conducted researches have been yielding fresh findings and new wisdoms (truths) regarding the breast milk.
The tens of researches conducted on the breast milk till now have all indicated and proved that breast-feeding for a period of 7 to 12 months will positively add to the healthy development of infants' bodily organs along with their IQ development. There are a number of different factors which contribute to infants' IQ development and breast-feeding is just an important one among them. The positive contributions of breast-feeding to an infant's IQ development may be better observed if the infant is raised within a genetically and environmentally healthy medium.
A steady brain development and its positive contribution to an infant's IQ are related to the molecules such as Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), Omega-3 fatty acid, Arachidonic acid (AA), Cholesterol and Taurine Amino Acid that are sufficiently found in the breast milk. The breast milk is even more useful for a healthy development of the infant's social intelligence. According to IQ measurements, the IQs of children who have been breast-fed for periods of 7 to 9 months are found to be 6 points higher than those who have been breast-fed for less than a month.
A mother becomes like an innately secure shelter for the infant during breast-feeding as the secretion of the oxytocin hormone in the mother's mammary glands is increased during her physical touch to the baby. Though motherly love and compassion are immaterial sentiments, a corporeal hormone is deemed a contributor to the attachment of love between mother and child. Breast milk is also rich in cholecystokinin (CCK), a hormone that acts as somniferous both in the mother and the infant. Thus, breast-fed infants more easily sink into sleep and this favorably contributes to infants' healthy growth while enabling mothers to take rest. Mothers who are complaining that their children are not easily sinking into sleep can thus try to breast-feed them more frequently and for longer durations.
Breast milk versus allergens
Parallel to babies' development, their foods also diversify. In order for foods other than breast milk given to the infant for the first time not to cause any sort of allergic reaction, that foodstuff should not be recognized as strange and unfamiliar, and this depends on the degree of sensitivity of that infant's immune response mechanism. Therefore, whether breast milk has any role in the baby becoming accustomed to potentially allergenic foodstuff is being researched on experimental animals. When lactoglobulin is fed to baby rats, which are highly prone to activating allergic response, together with baby food and with breast milk respectively, the one which is fed as blended with the breast milk has not caused any allergic response while the one which is fed as blended with baby food has caused powerful allergic responses (1). In conclusion, it has been proved that, not the baby foods, but only the breast milk plays an important role in activating an immune response in babies.
It has also been found that, in order to ensure healthy intestinal development in newborn babies, only breast milk should be provided in the early stages after birth. As breast milk forms a protective shield against bacteria and viruses, it eliminates the need for response activation of the immune system during the early stages following birth. Moreover, breast milk also causes growth of Lactobacillus bifidus in the newborn's intestines which prevent formation of pathogenic bacteria. The oligosaccharides in the breast milk are favorable stimulants for growth of Lactobacillus bifidus and also function as adhesive molecules. A resemblance of lock and key model has been observed between the oligosaccharides of the breast milk and the carbohydrates over the epithelial cells of the intestines. This implies that oligosaccharides of the breast milk function as free-floating receptors over the pathogenic microorganisms of various nature. They prevent adsorption of microbes over epithelial cells of the intestines and hence form a preventive shield against infections.
Oligosaccharides and Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC)
The enterecolitis which causes necrosis is a most widespread and fatal intestinal disease, being observed at a rate of 85% in premature babies. Insufficiency of oxygen in epithelial cells of the intestines due to various factors is an important reason for its happening. Insufficiency of oxygen in the intestines deforms the healthy functioning of epithelial cells bringing the medium susceptible for infections due to which the necrosis beginning on mucosa membrane of the intestines may develop down to the depth of the intestines' innermost layer. Roughly 10-26% of all the infant deaths being observed in the newborn intensive care units of US hospitals are occurring due to Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC). This happens very rarely in infants who are breast-fed.
A series of controlled researches have been conducted on baby rats for the purpose of understanding the causes of Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC). These baby rats have been sorted out in three separate groups as the ones fed only by breast milk, the ones fed only by baby food and the ones fed by baby food blended with oligosaccharides of breast milk. Animals in all three groups have been exposed to hypoxia (deprivation of adequate oxygen supply) for three consecutive days and their intestinal tissues have been analyzed at the end of the fourth day.
It has been observed that, while symptoms of enterecolitis in intestines of those fed solely by breast milk were the least, and in intestines of the ones fed by baby food blended with oligosaccharides of breast milk were relatively low, but in intestines of those fed only by baby food were extremely high. Medical reports too indicate that Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) is quite rare in breast-fed babies for the oligosaccharides of breast milk prevent formation of this disease. What is amazing is that the oligosaccharides and the complex glycans which play preventive roles against infections are abundantly available in breast milk whereas they are not found in baby foods (2). Although galacto-oligosaccharides which are similar to oligosaccharides of the breast milk are being added into most baby foods, they have not served as preventive against necrotizing enterocolitis. Molecular researches are presently being conducted as to how oligosaccharides of breast milk do function in favor of prevention (2).
It has also been verified by researches that breast-feeding of the infants is having favorable effects on their development of a sense of taste and on likes and dislikes of foods during their childhood years. In a recently conducted research, sour, sweet, mildly sour, salty, bitter and tasteless foods have been given to infants who are being breast-fed, cow milk-fed and baby food-fed and their reactions to these foods have been observed and evaluated. Those who were fed by baby food made a lesser grimace and also preferred more soury and bitter foods (12). When these babies were later offered normal foods, they replied only for the tastes of foods which were similar to the foods they were previously given. Moreover, their facial expressions were lesser and insufficient in terms of differentiation of unpleasant tastes. Basically, the contents of baby foods and nutrients affect children's future responses to those foods and nutrients and their taste perception ranges (3).
Breast milk conduces to expression of differing genes in infant's intestines
A reply to discussions on "whether breast milk or readymade baby foods" is given by researchers of the University of Illinois. Of the 22 healthy infants, the researchers fed 12 with breast milk and 10 with readymade baby food for a certain period of time and later analyzed the messenger RNAs (mRNA) in the intestine cells collected from their stools. These mRNAs have been exposed to a number of molecular tests, being later analyzed and compared. The results have disclosed that gene groups different from each other were being activated in intestines of the infants who were being fed by breast milk and baby foods. Genes of intestines that were expressed differently as foods of infants were diversified (4). Moreover, such a different reading, that is, revealing of the genes' potential was not limited to only a couple of genes. Contents of baby foods and nutrients have been influential on the expression of hundreds of genes. The most striking outcome was that, while the data encoded by the gene that was assigned for revealing response of the genes being exposed to hypoxia (deprivation of adequate oxygen supply) was properly expressed and activated in infants who were fed by breast milk, the data encoded by such genes of the infants who were fed by baby foods was not being described and read. Thus, the probability of developing of enterecolitis (inflammation of the intestines) due to hypoxia (deprivation of adequate oxygen supply) was increasing. It has been understood that preference of feeding the newborns with either breast milk or baby foods plays a significant role in disclosing the data of about 140 genes which stimulate quick development of their intestinal and immune systems. In other words, the genes which are assigned for preservation of the immune system and thus for strengthening the infants against diseases are being easily expressed in the intestines of infants fed by breast milk but not of the ones fed by baby foods (4).
Finally, it is vitally important to feed the infants in hospitals' newborn units more with breast milk in order to stop the developing of Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC). It has been understood that reading and suppression of the genes which are assigned for arrangement of particularly stomach-intestine functions are being arranged depending upon both development and epigenetical mechanisms as, for instance, the environmental factors that influence nutrition. This assertion shows that, while future studies will shed light on how to make ingredients of baby foods more similar to those of breast milk, it will never be substituted by any other nutrient.
Hamza Aydin is a freelance writer from Turkey with PhD degree in biology.
1. Katie L. Tooley et al. (2009). Maternal Milk, but not Formula, Regulates the Immune Response to ?-Lactoglobulin in Allergy-Prone Rat Pups. Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 139, No. 11, 2145–2151, November 2009.
2. Bode,L., Goth,K., Guner,Y. et al.(2010). Human milk oligosaccharides prevent Necrotizing Enterocolitis in neonatal rats. FASEB J. 2010 24:206.3 [Meeting Abstract]
3. Mennella, J. A. Et al. (2009). Early milk feeding influences taste acceptance and liking during infancy. Am J Clin Nutr. Vol. 90, No. 3, 780S-788S.
4. Chapkin, S.R. et al. (2010). Noninvasive stool-based detection of infant gastrointestinal development using gene expression profiles from exfoliated epithelial cells. The American Journal of Physiology, Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology. Volume 298, Issue 5. May 2010.