subject: breastfeeding

The Amazing Mammary Memory

The Amazing Mammary Memory

Any dairy farmer or lactation consultant knows that first-time mothers don’t produce as much milk. The peak daily production for a first calf heifer may be around 70 lbs of milk while the same animal on its second lactation can produce 90 lbs of milk daily. Somehow the mammary gland seems to remember how to make milk and does a better job the second time. Why is that? Read More...

The Breast Milk Products of the Future

The Breast Milk Products of the Future

For several years now, as work on the health benefits of the constituents of breast milk has progressed, researchers have wondered whether their findings might benefit infants in ways other than encouraging moms and NICUs to feed them breast milk. In short, scientists have imagined that breast milk’s oligosaccharides, unusual and complex proteins and so on, could be bottled in some way, and provided quasi-medicinally to infants with particular needs, and perhaps even to sick adults. Science aside, the field has always been held back by a shortage of available human milk. But, with the Internet acting as an aggregator of many small-scale suppliers (mothers), a new world of breast milk-based products is beginning to open up. Read More...

Milk Banking in the 21st Century

Milk Banking in the 21st Century

The Internet has facilitated many new arrangements in breast milk sharing. Without sterilization or pasteurization, breast milk can pass pathogens to infants, particularly if there is an opportunity for bacteria to grow during shipping. Modern human milk banks include both non-profit organizations and for-profit strategies. For-profit companies may increase the overall supply of human milk, but some argue that they create new problems.   When historians look back on the past 15 years, they will undoubtedly characterize the period through reference to widespread use of its defining technology: the Internet. Among its many benefits, the Internet is a perfect tool for aggregating many small scale and widely dispersed suppliers, and enabling buyers and sellers of obscure products to locate one another. It has therefore facilitated the exchange of human milk. From Craigslist postings to Facebook groups, individual altruism to cooperatives with exclusive sales agreements with private companies, the online exchange of milk now takes many forms. Elena Medo is the CEO of Medolac, one of the new for-profit human milk companies. She also founded (and left) the other main player, called Prolacta, and in doing so launched what she says was the first human milk website, where would-be donors could apply online, and those who passed initial screening then received house-calls for blood testing. Medolac sources all of its milk from a cooperative, but elsewhere in the tentacles of the Internet, it is perfectly possible for mothers to receive direct payment for milk based on peer-to-peer online exchange. This, of course, carries at least the potential risk of pathogen transfer, or that unscrupulous sellers might add cows milk or some other product to increase sales volumes. Some people, however—including the CEO of HMBANA (the Human Milk Banking Association of North America), John Honaman—are entirely against moneymaking out of breast milk, […] Read More...

Children Who Avoid Cow’s Milk May Fall Short of Vitamin D

Children Who Avoid Cow’s Milk May Fall Short of Vitamin D

Rickets and vitamin D deficiency do not sound like 21st century issues. Yet nearly 100 years since the connection between the two was first identified, the U.S., Canada, and numerous other countries are facing a potential epidemic of vitamin D deficiency among children (1). The reasons for the resurgence are much the same as they were in the past: limited sunlight exposure and poor dietary intake of this essential nutrient. Vitamin D-fortified milk helped bring an end to the rickets epidemic in the early 1900s, and it remains the best dietary source of vitamin D for children today. However, a growing number of children do not drink cow’s milk. A handful of studies have found that children who avoid cow’s milk due to allergy, intolerance, or dietary preference for alternative milk beverages are at a greater risk for vitamin D deficiency (2-4). When coupled with medical advice to avoid the sun, these findings could help explain the increasing prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in otherwise healthy children. While scurvy may have gone the way of the pirate, rickets is still a modern concern. Read More...

Mother’s DNA Alters Baby’s Gut Microbes

Mother's DNA Alters Baby's Gut Microbes

A mother’s genes determine a lot of things about her newborn, and it turns out that their effects extend even to the bacteria that colonize the baby’s gut. The establishment of a baby’s gut microbial community is an important event in a newborn’s life. A new study, conducted by microbial ecologist Zachary Lewis, finds that the gut microbiome of breastfed infants is influenced by the types of sugars present in breast milk [1, 2]. Specifically, a particular gene in mothers that modifies sugars in breast milk influences infants’ gut microbiome. Read More...

Infection-Fighting Formula

Infection-Fighting Formula

There is a plethora of ways in which the composition of infant formula differs from that of breast milk. For one, the latter has a far greater diversity of ingredients, which are still not exhaustively known. But there are also plenty of known constituents of breast milk that are absent from infant formula. One team of researchers is dedicated to figuring out the implications of adding one kind of missing ingredient in particular—milk fat globule membrane (MFGM)—on infants’ health and development. Recently, this group identified some benefits to infants’ abilities to cope with infections when the infant formula they consume contains this supplement [1]. Read More...

Breastfeeding and Vitamin D Deficiency

Breastfeeding and Vitamin D Deficiency

Breastfed babies get all the nourishment they need from their mother's milk—right? Almost. One nutrient they don't get enough of from breast milk is vitamin D, a hormone essential for babies' growth and health. Instead, infants rely on vitamin D transferred from their mother via the placenta during early pregnancy; vitamin D produced in the baby's skin after sun exposure; or vitamin D supplied via infant formula. Recently, it's become clear that vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women is widespread in many parts of the world (1). This means that many babies who are exclusively breastfed and also kept out of the sun— as recommended by health authorities—are lacking in vitamin D. To tackle this global health problem, a new study (2) calls for greater attention to the vitamin D levels in pregnant mothers and newborns. Read More...

A Time Before Nipples

A Time Before Nipples

What was milk like long ago in evolutionary history? In the absence of a time machine, the next best way to answer this question is to take what is known about the diversity of living mammals and work backwards using deductive logic, just like Sherlock Holmes. Recently, progress in this area has received a major boost from two papers about the different sugars found in monotreme milk—monotremes being the wackiest and most ancestral-like of the mammal groups, with membership so exclusive it is limited to only two kinds, the platypus and the echidna. Read More...

Evolution Solves a Problem of Premature Milk Loss

Evolution Solves a Problem of Premature Milk Loss

The mammary gland is an amazing example of a dynamic tissue capable of undergoing major changes to match the infant's need for milk. Hormonal regulation during pregnancy causes the growth of new mammary cells, and the gland enlarges to prepare for milk production. We know a lot about signals that are reset following birth to coincide with lactation, but exactly what tells the mammary gland to stop producing milk is less clear. Read More...

Should Breastfeeding Mothers be Paid?

Should Breastfeeding Mothers be Paid?

Is offering vouchers to mothers, who are statistically unlikely to breastfeed, bribery—and thus a misuse of public funds—or is it smart public health policy? A pilot study in poorer areas in northern England are testing whether offering new mothers shopping vouchers helps increase breastfeeding rates. The results so far suggest that the scheme does achieve this aim. Opinion is divided, however, as to whether this would be a good use of public finances. Read More...