Karen van der Berg
Every person has his or her own unique fingerprints which differ completely from those of everybody else on earth. New research conducted regarding the value of breast-milk indicates that it possesses the same characteristic. The breast-milk of all women who breast-feed differ from one another, most probably so that it is suited exactly to each baby’s needs.
Dr Elloise du Toit, a microbiologist at the University of Cape Town, recently conducted research on and compiled an analysis of breast-milk.
“In the past, the investigation into the composition of breast-milk formed a critical part of new-born babies’ immune systems. Initially it was believed that breast-milk does not contain bacteria, except if the mother has an infection.”
She says more recent studies however indicate that breast-milk contains millions of microbes (bacteria, viruses and fungi) that are essential to prevent babies from contracting illnesses and acute infections later in life. These include ear-infection, meningitis, urinary tract infections, asthma, type 1 diabetes and obesity.
To develop their immune systems, babies need enough microbes to form colonies in their digestive systems.
“Research shows the bacterial composition of breast-milk is unique to each mother – like a fingerprint. Various factors can influence this. These include the mother’s diet and well-being. Things such as severe tension and the age at which she is having her baby, as well as her use of antibiotics and probiotics also play a role.”
She says their research delved deeper into the composition of breast-milk in various countries, namely South Africa, China, Spain and Finland.
“The aim was to look at the influence of four geographic areas, namely Africa, Northern and Southern Europe and Asia.”
Elloise says the focus was on the microbiomes as well as the fatty acids composition in breast-milk. The impact thereof on the birthing process was also studied.
“It was found that the bacterial composition of the breast-milk differed among the women in the different countries. The finding makes a contribution to the current growing knowledge about breast-milk, which is important so as to identify additional benefits of breast-milk, so that women can be encouraged to breast-feed their babies.”
Health organisations world-wide recommend that women breast-feed their babies exclusively during the first six months. The World Health Organisation recommends that children be breast-fed up to two years. This is based on research that shows that breast-milk is the best for babies.
“Yet only 38% of all babies world-wide are breast-fed up to six months. Research shows that babies in developing countries are inclined to die 14,4% more in the first months of their lives due to illnesses such as pneumonia and diarrhoea if they are not breast-fed.”
She says research about microbiomes in breast-milk and the crucial role they play endeavours to improve babies’ health.
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