The amazing science and nature of breastmilk

The importance of breastfeeding has been catapulted into the spotlight in the last few years, the role of breastmilk in nourishing and supporting infants through their first fragile years of life still is not fully understood and we are learning more about its importance every day with more research. 

Something on the cutting edge of research now is the gut microbiome and its role in health and disease, this is prevalent in breastfeeding research too. As the discovery of HMOs has been ground-breaking in understanding infant development. 

Breast milk is not actually a liquid or a substance but a tissue, more similar to blood than anything else. If we can step away from the idea that cow’s milk formula and breast milk are interchangeable we can begin to understand this concept better. Breast milk is not only supplying nutrition to support the infant, it is combining micronutrients, fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into complexes – joining things together- so that they are in the most absorbable form that evolution has found. 

Bacteria is transferred to the baby from all over the mother, from skin and from breastmilk, but the bacteria that survives in the gut is the bacteria that has food. The food that’s also provided in the breastmilk is HMOs. 

The Lego brick analogy for HMOs

 HMOs stands for human milk oligosaccharides, these are special specific sugars that the baby does not digest. They travel all the way to the colon where they are used to feed specific beneficial bacteria. This specific food for these specific bacteria, guides and cultivates a beneficial gut microbiome (only letting the good bacteria grow). These HMO’s are sometimes supplemented into cow’s milk formula, which is then claimed to be similar to breastmilk due to the addition of this, however, there is so much still to understand about breastmilk and HMOs that there’s no way of knowing if adding these HMOs to formula milk alone is leading it to be similar to breastmilk in any way. 

HMOs are made up of any combination of 5 building blocks, like 5 colours of Lego bricks – there is over 100 variations in which they can be stuck together, and each woman produces them in breastmilk in different quantities, contributing to each woman’s breastmilk being as unique as the human fingerprint, specific to her baby and changing not only as little ones grow but even from morning to evening in composition. 

Despite there being many functions of HMOs that we still don’t know, we are discovering the benefits of this process all the time, many of the immune diseases we see today are related to the health of the gut microbiome. Which of course is set up by the bacteria we receive as a baby, they protect the infant by digesting these HMOs and releasing post biotics (special compounds of all types that the baby’s gut cannot produce itself) and these post biotics can then be absorbed by the gut. By breastfeeding you can ensure you are populating and nourishing your baby’s gut as effectively as possible, setting them up for better health outcomes throughout life, not just in those first few years. 

To find out more about HMOs, breastfeeding, and all aspects of mother and baby nutrition please visit our consultation page to book a consultation or a package, for bespoke advice tailored just for you and your baby.