Scientific facts and unknowns about breast milk

Scientific facts and unknowns about breast milk

Although breast milk, which nourishes, calms babies, heals when sick, and whose content can change according to need, is still considered a ‘miracle’, scientific research on it is unfortunately not enough. It is still unknown how some of the properties of breast milk work.

Nevertheless, compared to previous years, the number of studies on breast milk has been increasing in recent years. There are some features of breast milk that can still be considered a ‘puzzle’ for scientists:

It is a known fact that there are antibodies and similar protective factors in the content of breast milk. The positive effects of colostrum, also known as the ‘first milk’, which is secreted especially in the first days after birth, on the baby’s immune system have been scientifically proven. Likewise, some studies reveal that these protective ingredients in breast milk increase, especially when babies are sick. Made in 2013 in researchWhen both the mother and the baby caught a cold, it was determined that the number of white blood cells in the mother’s milk increased 64 times. Only when the baby is sick, the number of white blood cells in breast milk increases 13 times.

Another research He also found interesting information about a type of immune molecule called lactoferrin that facilitates the destruction of harmful bacteria. According to the research, lactoferrin starts to increase in the mother’s milk before the baby becomes sick and supports the baby’s immune system. It continued to be secreted for a while after the disease passed.

How all these healing properties of breast milk work is still unknown. One of the claims made is that certain signals are transmitted to the mother’s body through the baby’s saliva. However, the miracle of breast milk, which changes according to the health status of the baby, is still not scientifically understood.

All parents who try to adapt to the sleep pattern of their newborn baby know that babies cannot develop a sleep pattern on their own. But breast milk is one of the best helpers for sleepless nights. The effect of hormone molecules in the content of breast milk and affecting the sleep cycle and quality is great. Melatonin, known as the sleep hormone, and tryptophan, an amino acid that supports this hormone, are present in breast milk. Moreover, these hormones are secreted at different levels according to the hours of sleep. Made in 2016 researchfound that melatonin levels in breast milk were five times higher at night than during the day.

Likewise, another research also reveals that cortisone and cortisol hormones increase in breast milk, especially during the day. Cortisol, which manages the stress levels of the body and activates the body when it is time to wake up, is found in more daytime milk than milk secreted at noon and at night.

However, we still cannot understand how the mother’s daily routine affects the baby’s sleep-wake balance. At the same time, how babies will be affected in the absence of these hormones that affect the sleep cycle, and what differences there may be in the sleep cycles of babies fed with formula or breast milk that is milked and stored is a subject that needs to be scientifically researched and understood.

One of the most interesting human health discoveries in recent years has been the understanding of the gut microbiome. Roughly defined, the microbiome, which refers to the bacteria living in our intestines, can affect many conditions from the immune system to mental health. Breast milk is also a superfood for babies’ microbiome. To research According to her, breast milk enables the beneficial bacteria that keep babies healthy, proliferating and improving the microbiome overall.

‘Breast milk doesn’t just feed babies, it also feeds microbes in the baby’s system,’ says microbiologist researcher David Mills from the University of California. According to Mills’ research, complex sugars called oligosaccharides found in breast milk help increase and heal beneficial bacteria in the baby’s intestinal flora.

More scientific studies on breast milk and the microbiome are needed because it is still unknown how babies’ gut flora evolves. Some research still needs to be done to understand whether the gut microbiome is created by breast milk or is triggered by contact with amniotic fluid or the mother.

The protein, fat, sugar, hormone and other components in breast milk may differ from mother to mother. Likewise, milk secreted by a single mother may show different content characteristics at different times. The factors that affect the sleep pattern may differ during the day and night, as well as the sex and developmental characteristics of the baby can affect the content of secreted milk.

A made on rhesus monkeys in research Katie Hinde, mother monkeys were producing more milk for baby girls than they did for baby boys. However, the milk they produced for male babies had a higher fat content. Likewise, in a study conducted on lactating cows, it was proven that the content of milk can change according to the sex of the baby.

Researcher Katie Hinde points out that research into breast milk variability is important to understand what changes may occur in babies fed formula or breastmilk. However, for now, researchers are only in the process of detecting these variations. Understanding the causes is important to understand how children who are not fed directly with their mother’s milk will be affected.

In a 2007 study, another unexpected component was found in breast milk: stem cells. These cells, which can start working in the baby’s system without any change, can maintain their initial properties even when other adult cells lose their flexibility and are vital for the formation of new tissues in the body. It is not known how these stem cells, which are still in breast milk, affect baby development or how babies who do not receive these stem cells because they cannot receive breast milk are affected.


Lindzi Wessel. “Why scientists are working to unlock these five puzzles about mother’s milk”. Şuradan alındı: (06.10.2018).

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