Scientists have long found that while breast-fed babies and formula-fed babies gain weight and develop similarly, the breast-fed babies are at a lower risk for various illnesses–but why? A new study finds significant differences in the intestines of breast- and bottle-fed infants, suggesting a cause for the differences in immunities. Why would yet another study finding that “breast is best” matter? Because every mother can’t nurse her infant, and some babies will always need the best formula possible. The more scientists can learn about what our bodies put into breast
milk, and how it affects our children, the better.
Researchers from the the University of Illinois found that breast-feeding “induces genetic pathways that are quite different from those in formula-fed infants.” Essentially, that means that researchers examined the intestinal cells shed in the course of ordinary day-to-day-living (yes, they looked at the baby’s poop) and found that the genetic material in the cells of the nursing babies was markedly different from that of the formula-fed children. By looking at the genes that are activated by different kinds of feeding, scientists hope to be able to see how the baby’s intestine learns to respond to food proteins and bacteria, and help formula-makers develop products that more closely approximate mother’s milk.
Before you start worrying about any possible negatives of “better formula,” consider this: many babies born prematurely and placed in neonatal intensive care units need formula feeding. One gene found most often in breast-fed infants appears to be connected to the prevention of neocrotizing enterocolitis, a leading cause of death in the NICU. Whatever your opinion about breast vs. bottle, better formula would benefit us all.