If you’re wondering whether breastfeeding is a good idea or not, a study by researchers at the Duke University Medical Center published in the August issue of the journal Current Nutrition & Food Science may help you make up your mind.
Breast milk promotes flora colonization in the digestive tracts of infants—something that has lasting implications for their immune systems and general health. The microorganisms whose growth breast milk encourages are essential for the absorption of nutrients. According to the research team at Duke University, formula definitely does not offer this benefit; nor does it help protect infants from a variety of infections and diseases.
E. coli can cause food poisoning, but it has several other close relatives that are needed early in life to grow resistance to infection. In the Duke study (led by Dr. William Parker), researchers grew colonies of E. coli bacteria in ordinary cow’s milk, formula, and breast milk. The E. coli grew differently; in breast milk, it coagulated into biofilm, an infection-resistant bacterial layer that is required for good health. In the other two samples, the bacteria did not form these necessary biofilms, but remained individual cells. According to Dr. Parker,
“Only breast milk appears to promote a healthy colonization of beneficial bacteria, and these insights suggest there may be potential approaches for developing substitutes that more closely mimic those benefits in cases where breast milk cannot be provided.”
Prior studies have linked breast milk to reductions in respiratory infections, influenza, and diarrhea in young children. Later in life, it is believed to help guard against such diseases as Multiple Sclerosis, allergies, and diabetes.
Parker et al have stated that a deeper understanding of breast milk and the way it benefits infants “could have a long-lasting effect on the health of infants who, for many reasons, may not get mother’s milk.”
Duke University August 27, 2012 press release