When you think of baby food, you’re most likely to imagine something that doesn’t need to be chewed or most probably breast milk. Breast milk, especially during the first six months, is essential for the growth of the baby. It is recommended that a baby is breastfed at least for the first half of the year because the colostrum in breast milk contains antibodies that boost the immunity of the baby. Without the immunity, the baby is prone to diseases. Its importance cannot be stated more obviously than that.
But have you ever taken a closer look at breast milk? Perhaps in a lab setting? It’s a pretty complex substance and science is yet to unravel all of its mysteries. It is near-impossible to identify what substance produces which outcome in the baby. Most likely, it is a combination of different substances acting together that result in healthy outcomes. However it works, we are sure of its results because we’ve been practicing breastfeeding for as long as humans have been around. Nature’s got it all figured out for us.
One important thing to remember about breast milk when you’re looking at its importance is the fact that mothers pass on genetic material to their babies through breast milk. This can be a significant factor when it comes to mothers who have genetic conditions that they do not want to pass on to their little ones.
Here are three interesting facts about breast milk and the genetic material that it carries.
Exosomes are found in breast milk. They are also present in various other bodily fluids and have a specific function. They communicate with other cells and change how the other cells behave. One significant component of exosomes is microRNAs or miRNAs. It has been hypothesized that these miRNAs could be responsible for the development of the baby’s immune system. And they can only be transferred through the mother’s breast milk. They have also been known to predict and protect against lung disease (1).
Exosomes, as well as miRNAs, are found in cow’s milk as well. The trouble is, during the process of pasteurization, most of the miRNAs are damaged, leaving them useless when it comes to serving their function. They might be present but are biologically inactive.
2. Stem Cells
It is a well-known fact that breast milk is a rich source of stem cells (2). The discovery was made only recently, in 2007 in fact. This allowed scientists to study possible treatments and cures for ailments such as diabetes, spinal injuries, Parkinson’s, etc. as they have a new source of stem cells.
Now there is a talk of whether stem cells are used in the body of infants for tissue homeostasis, regeneration or repair of cells. While not yet proven, there seems to be a good reason to believe that this is indeed the case.
3. From Another Mother
Genetic material can be passed from one mother to a child who is not her own due to milk sharing (3). This might seem baffling at first but is not necessarily a bad thing. At least we’re not receiving genetic material from another species, right? So bear this in mind the next time you decide to share breast milk.
One might think that the only function of breast milk is to provide nutrition. But, as we have just seen, human breast milk does a lot more than that. It is responsible for the development of the baby’s DNA by providing information. Whether science has found all the answers or not, nature certainly has. Each and every system that is associated with babies after birth serves a specific function and cannot necessarily be broken down to particular purposes.