The Prebiotic in Breast Milk May Prevent Allergies in Children13 months ago | Pregnancy
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
There are varying opinions on whether a mother should breastfeed her baby in public or how old is too old for a child to be breastfed.
An Australian mother of five said that people should not judge her for breastfeeding her 7-year-old son who suffers from autism. She said that breastfeeding “calms and grounds” her son and prevents him from having to take medication. The calming effect her son experiences may be partly due to the melatonin in breast milk, she said.
(Her son is also unable to swallow melatonin supplements on his own).
“Melatonin is secreted during the night in adults but not in infants. It has a hypnotic effect as well as a relaxing effect on the smooth muscle of the gastrointestinal tract,” reports the National Institutes of Health.
“It is plausible that breast milk, which consists of melatonin, may have an effect on improving infants' sleep and reducing infantile colic.”
So it’s no secret that breast milk contains important nutrients which are necessary for infants to thrive.
Breast milk contains essential nutrients such as water, proteins, vitamins, fats and more.
And according to a recent study, the sugars in breast milk may help prevent future food allergies.
(Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.9 million children under age 18. That’s 1 in 13 children, or roughly two in every classroom).
Human breast milk contains human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs).
HMOs are unique to human breast milk, and “[t]hey are the third most abundant solid component in human milk after lactose (a different type of sugar) and fat. They are not actually digestible by infants, but act as a prebiotic, helping to guide development of the infant gut microbiota, which previous research suggests is a key influencer of allergic disease,” according to a report on the study.
The study analyzed breast milk samples and data from 421 infants and mothers. Some of the samples were taken for examination three to four months after a mother gave birth. At 1-year-old, infants were given skin prick tests to check for allergic sensitization to common allergens (including certain foods).
If a test came back positive, this did not necessarily indicate an absolute positive allergy, however, it did indicate a heightened sensitivity.
“Sensitizations during infancy don't always persist into later childhood, but they are important clinical indicators and strong predictors of future allergic disease," said one of the doctors involved in the study.
The results of the study?
“No individual HMO was associated with food sensitization, but the overall HMO composition appeared to play a role,” according to the report.
“Composition of HMOs in breast milk is variable and determined by factors like lactation stage, gestational age, maternal health, ethnicity, geographic location and breastfeeding exclusivity.”
"Our research has identified a 'beneficial' HMO profile that was associated with a lower rate of food sensitization in children at one year," said a doctor involved in the study.
"To our knowledge, this is the largest study to examine the association of HMOs and allergy development in infants, and the first to evaluate overall HMO profiles."
So in other words…
The unique makeup of a mother’s breast milk may help prevent future allergies in her child.
More research is needed, and it is important to keep in mind there are many other factors that may play a role in whether a child has allergies or not.
“Earlier birth order and/or fewer number of siblings, late or no attendance in day care facilities, and reduced exposure to pets are among factors most commonly associated with allergic disease development,” says the NIH.
You also have to take into consideration things like duration of breastfeeding, maternal diet during lactation and age at complementary food introduction.
But I think the biggest takeaway from all of this is how important nutrition is and how good nutrition can literally be transferred from mother to child. Breast milk has prebiotics, which are critical for gut health, and you’ve likely heard us say many times that good health starts in the gut.
With that said, some mothers have a lot of difficulty with breastfeeding due to issues such as low milk production and trouble with the baby latching. Many mothers use formula, and the good news is that if you get a good quality formula, your baby may get some of the same benefits they would get from breast milk.
For example, one formula reportedly protects the immune system just like breast milk. It is infused with HMOs. So just like adults can take supplements if they are unable to get all of the nutrients they need from the foods they eat, babies can receive supplementation through formula.
And lastly, keep in mind that breastfeeding mothers have to be especially proactive about making sure their babies get enough vitamin D. Most formulas are fortified with vitamin D, but women who breastfeed have to depend on sunlight and supplementation to ensure their babies get enough vitamin D.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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