The ‘Miraculous’ Benefits of Breast Milk Aren’t Just for Babies
It was only a few years ago that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that a mere 13 percent of mothers in the United States met their recommendations for infant nutrition.1,2
Breast milk is designed to promote development and nourish a baby’s inner ecosystem by inoculating the gut with a special strain of protective bacteria. These bacteria have important benefits for babies, children, and adults alike and can be found in the specially formulated Body Ecology Bifidus Power Blend.
The CDC, WHO, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend:
- Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.
- Breastfeeding supplemented with appropriate complementary foods for one year or longer.
In the CDC’s most recent breastfeeding report card, published in 2014, it was revealed that while breastfeeding rates are slowly rising in the U.S., only 27 percent of babies were still breastfed at 12 months.3 The WHO estimates that less than 40 percent of babies under six months are exclusively breastfed around the world.4
Why Aren’t We All Breastfed?
In the midst of labor, anything can happen.
Even if you never planned to have an epidural or a C-section delivery, these plans get thrown out the window once the health of either mother or baby is in jeopardy. As it turns out, these procedures, while potentially life-saving, affect the ability of breast milk to letdown, or flow.
In fact, studies have found that the stress of nurses coming and going during labor is enough to slow milk supply.5 Studies have also found that the same can be said of an epidural during labor.6 Cortisol given during preterm labor can also make it difficult to initiate and sustain milk production.7
Sometimes, the case is that a mother has more than enough milk but still struggles to feed her baby. This could be due to:
- A lip-tie or tongue-tie, which can inhibit a proper latch.
- Infant colic or acid reflux.
In either case, nursing can be a traumatic experience for both parties. Just because mama and baby were designed to nourish each other during those first several months of a newborn’s life, it doesn’t mean it’s easy. Today, with help from the Breast Is Best campaign, most women are told from conception that breastfeeding is important for mother and baby. And yet, there are still plenty of women who can’t breastfeed or who choose not to for personal reasons.
Breastfeeding remains a personal decision, but the 2011 Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding blames many common roadblocks on breastfeeding misinformation and lack of support. “Mothers are also uncertain about what to expect with breastfeeding and how to actually carry it out. Even though breastfeeding is often described as ‘natural,’ it is also an art that has to be learned by both the mother and the newborn,” the report states.8
The Benefits of Breast Milk for Babies — and Adults
The complexity of breast milk goes far beyond its nutritional value. What a woman eats and her health prior to conception can affect both fetal development and breast milk.9,10
Besides nourishing a newborn with macronutrients (sugars, fat, and protein) and micronutrients (things like vitamins and minerals), breast milk:
- Protects against infection.
- Reduces inflammation.11
- Promotes development of the brain, the immune system, and the gut.
- Shapes a baby’s inner ecosystem, or unique community of gut bacteria.12,13
A newborn experiences massive shifts of growth and adaption during the first several months of life. And the surface of a baby’s gastrointestinal tract responds to the proteins and nutrients that are found in either breast milk or formula. As a foundational first food, breast milk contains more than 700 species of bacteria, as scientists discovered in 2013.14 And what a mother eats can alter the bacterial content of breast milk, or the microbiome, and the gene content of that bacteria.15
This gut-and-gene connection starts from birth and can have a lifelong impact on our health.
A mother’s breast milk is responsible for inoculating a baby’s delicate digestive system with good bacteria that can regulate development and, later, protect against disease.16 The bifidobacteria found in a breastfed baby’s gut are the same bacteria we need to defend our bodies as adults, and they’re known to decline with age. Supplementing with a bifidus probiotic can help to restore a compromised inner ecology — especially for the 20 percent of people with a variation of the FUT2 gene that can resist the growth of bifidobacteria in the gut. This surprisingly common gene variation can determine if the body is vulnerable to autoimmune disease, inflammatory bowel disease, Candida overgrowth, urinary tract infection, B12 deficiency, and some forms of anemia.
What Does Breast Milk Have That Formula Doesn’t?
1. Breast milk is equipped with tools that educate and buffer the immune response system in the body.
Colostrum, which is secreted by a woman for the first several days after birth, comes in very small quantities. So small that you may worry about whether or not it is enough to feed your newborn baby. While the yellow milk of colostrum may not look like much, it offers plenty!
Colostrum contains high amounts of:
- Secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA), lactoferrin, and human milk oligosaccharides (HMO), all of which protect the lining of the gastrointestinal tract.17
- Growth factors.
- Chemical messengers called cytokines that can soothe an inflammatory response in the still-forming intestinal tract of a newborn.
As days and weeks pass after a baby is born, a newborn’s gastrointestinal tract begins to pick up signals. These signals prompt the immune system and the inner ecology to form.18,19 Depending on what nourishment a newborn receives, this can benefit a baby, or it can increase risk factors for certain health disorders like obesity or type 1 diabetes.20′
2. Breast milk feeds the brain.
Breast milk contains high concentrations of nutrients that support brain development.21 These are things like:
- Sialic acid
- Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids
Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, in particular docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA), are found in breast milk at much higher concentrations than in cow’s milk. A diet high in fish oils can influence just how much of these beneficial fatty acids are found in your breast milk. Studies note that while infant formulas will supplement these fatty acids, it has been difficult to gather information about the long-term effects.22
What to Do If Breastfeeding Is Not an Option
There are many reasons why a new mother chooses not to breastfeed her child. Sometimes, it’s not even a matter of choice. It’s a matter of ability.
If you cannot breastfeed, need to return to work after your baby is born, or have adopted a newborn, relying on some kind of formula seems essential. In these situations, you can still optimize your child’s nutrition and development. The Weston A. Price Foundation has published wonderful formulas that can be prepared at home, under a doctor’s guidance. These formulas more closely duplicate a mother’s breast milk. One formula in particular uses liver and bone broth, and it is free of dairy.
Far past the baby stage, we can still receive the same protection and nourishment from the breastfed bacteria found in a newborn baby’s gut. The Body Ecology Bifidus Power Blend is specially formulated with four probiotic strains of a baby’s bifidobacteria that decline in the gut with age. Supplementing and restoring levels of these healthy gut bacteria can bring the body back into balance, cultivating the hardy inner ecosystem you were born with.
What To Remember Most About This Article:
Based on statistics from the CDC and the WHO, only 13 percent of mothers in the U.S. may meet recommendations for infant nutrition. Mothers are advised to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of a baby’s life and supplement with solid foods and breast milk for one year or longer.
Still, new mothers can tell you that in labor, you must expect the unexpected. A mother may have an unplanned epidural or C-section delivery, which could affect her milk letdown after birth. A mother may also struggle to feed her baby due to a lip-tie, tongue-tie, or acid reflux or because of a lack of support and information.
Breastfeeding an infant can provide much more than nutritional benefits — protecting against infection, reducing inflammation, promoting brain and immune system development, and supporting gut health to shape a baby’s inner ecosystem. Compared to formula, breast milk is fully equipped to educate and buffer the immune response system in the body, while nourishing beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.
If breastfeeding isn’t an option, you can still support your child’s nutrition and development by making formula that mimics natural breast milk at home, with a doctor’s guidance. Adults and children can receive the same protective benefits by supplementing with a bifidus probiotic, specially formulated with the resilient bacteria that populate a breastfed baby’s gut.
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- “Infant and Young Child Nutrition: Global Strategy on infant and young child feeding.” WHO. 2012.
- “Breastfeeding promotion.” CDC. 2010.
- “Breastfeeding Report Card United States 2014.” CDC.
- Black RE, Victora CG, Walker SP, and the Maternal and Child Nutrition Study Group. Maternal and child undernutrition and overweight in low-income and middle-income countries. Lancet 2013; published online.
- Chen DC, Nommsen-Rivers L, Dewey KG, Lonnerdal B. Stress during labor and delivery and early lactation performance. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;68:335–44.
- Beilin Y, Bodian CA, Weiser J, Hossain S, Arnold I, Feierman DE, et al. Effect of labor epidural analgesia with and without fentanyl on infant breast-feeding: a prospective, randomized, double-blind study. Anesthesiology. 2005;103:1211–7.
- Henderson JJ, Hartmann PE, Newnham JP, Simmer K. Effect of preterm birth and antenatal corticosteroid treatment on lactogen- esis II in women. Pediatrics. 2008;121:e92–e100.
- “The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding.” Office of the Surgeon General (US); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US); Office on Women’s Health (US). Rockville (MD): Office of the Surgeon General (US); 2011.
- Heerwagen MJ, Miller MR, Barbour LA, Friedman JE. Maternal obesity and fetal metabolic programming: a fertile epigenetic soil. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2010. doi:10.1152/ ajpregu.00310.2010.
- Dabelea D, Crume T. Maternal environment and the transgenera- tional cycle of obesity and diabetes. Diabetes. 2011;60:1849– 55.
- Walker A. Breast milk as the gold standard for protectivenutrients. J Pediatr. 2010;156:S3–7.
- Kau AL, Ahern PP, Griffin NW, Goodman AL, Gordon JI. Human nutrition, the gut microbiome and the immune system. Nature. 2011;474:327–36.
- Zivkovic AM, German JB, Lebrilla CB, Mills DA. Human milk glycobiome and its impact on the infant gastrointestinal microbiota. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2011;108 Suppl 1:4653–8.
- Cabrera-Rubio, M. C. Collado, K. Laitinen, S. Salminen, E. Isolauri, A. Mira. The human milk microbiome changes over lactation and is shaped by maternal weight and mode of delivery. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2012; 96 (3): 544 DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.112.037382.
- Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine. “Maternal diet alters the breast milk microbiome and microbial gene content.” ScienceDaily.
- Environ Microbiol. 2014 Sep;16(9):2891-904. doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.12238. Epub 2013 Sep 3.
- Neville MC, Morton J, Umemora S. Lactogenesis: the transition from pregnancy to lactation. Pediatric Clinics of North America. 2001;48:35–52.
- Palmer C, Bik EM, DiGiulio DB, Relman DA, Brown PO. Development of the human infant intestinal microbiota. PLoS Biol. 2007;5:e177.
- Reinhardt C, Reigstad CS, Backhed F. Intestinal microbiota dur- ing infancy and its implications for obesity. J Pediatr Gastro-Enterol Nutr. 2009;48:249–56.
- Patelarou, E., Girvalaki, C., Brokalaki, H., Patelarou, A., Androulaki, Z. and Vardavas, C. (2012), Current evidence on the associations of breastfeeding, infant formula, and cow’s milk introduction with type 1 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review. Nutrition Reviews, 70: 509–519. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2012.00513.x
- Neville MC, Picciano MF. Regulation of milk lipid synthesis and composition. Ann Rev Nutrition. 1997;17:159–84.
- Campoy C, Escolano-Margarit MV, Ramos R, Parrilla-Roure M, Csabi G, Beyer J, et al. Effects of prenatal fish-oil and 5- methyltetrahydrofolate supplementation on cognitive development of children at 6.5 y of age. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;94:1880S–8S.