New perspective on breast milk research highlights benefits in children

Bottle and breast pump with breast milk on the background of mother holding in her hands and breastfeeding baby
Photo credit Dreamstime
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A compilation of research on breast milk released this month spells out what it is that provides long-lasting benefits in children.

The research of Dr. Foteini Kakulas on the migration of stem cells from breast milk to the nursing infant was summarized this month in the International Milk Genomics Consortium newsletter, "Splash!" 

Diane Spatz, nurse researcher and director of the lactation program at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, says Kakulas' work in particular is what she cites in the breastfeeding classes that she teaches.

"Dr. Foteini, her particular research is looking at stem cells, how viable they are in human milk, that you can take the stem cells out of freshly expressed milk and you can put them in a petri dish and you can grow all different types of tissues. But then, she's demonstrated that the stem cells from mom's milk are visibly present in the baby's brain."

"Yes, they do somehow make it through the delicate gastrointestinal tract into the blood of the young; and from there, to various organs, including the brain," writes Kakulas.

"So if you just imagine a mom who's breastfeeding her baby, every day her baby is consuming tens of thousands of stem cells," Spatz said. "So babies who are breastfed are getting brain power from their mother's milk."

She says differences in the brains of breastfed versus non-breastfed babies are visible under MRI.

"We have research that show that (breastfed) babies do better in terms of IQ and developmental outcomes," Spatz said.

And Spatz says it's been shown that mothers who are given scientific information about breastfeeding tend to do so longer that those without the knowledge. "If they don't know how critical breastfeeding is for their child, they might be ready to give up very easily," she said.