The Science of Breast Milk
Feeding during the first 1000 days between conception and a child’s 2nd birthday sets the foundation for overall health. Breastfed babies are less likely to develop allergies, GI, respiratory and ear infections. They are also less likely to become overweight, develop diabetes later in life and have been shown to have a higher IQ. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of childhood infections such as diarrhea and pneumonia and premature mortality as well as minimizes nutrition-related harm to cognitive development in early childhood (Horta et al., 2015; Victora et al., 2016). More recently, researchers have connected not just acute illness but a host of serious, chronic diseases and conditions—SIDS, obesity, leukemia, breast cancer, and asthma—to infants’ consumption of formula. Recent studies have also shown that even small amounts of breast milk have diverse bacteria that are beneficial to infant health.
Moreover, breastfeeding reduces the risk of postpartum hemorrhage and depression for mothers, who are also less likely to develop diabetes and to experience breast or ovarian cancer (Chowdhury et al., 2015; Victora et al., 2016).
The World Health Organization, CDC and America Academy of Pediatrics recommend infants be breastfed exclusively until six months of age with breastfeeding continuing as an important part of the infant’s diet until he or she is at least two years old. Meanwhile, the World Health Assembly has set a target to increase the breastfeeding rate to 50% at 6 months of age by 2025. As of 2020, only 25% of infants are breastfed under six months of age.
Why timing matters
It is not only the initiation of breastfeeding, but the duration of breastfeeding which impacts infant health. Researchers have found, for example, that babies breastfed for less than 4 weeks are 5 times more likely to die of SIDS than infants breastfed for more than 16 weeks. Babies breastfed 2 months or less are almost 4 times more likely than babies breastfed for more than a year to be obese when they enter elementary school. Childhood cancer rates are affected by how infants are fed as well. Infants breastfed for 6 months or less are almost 3 times more likely to contract lymphoid malignancy than babies breastfed longer than 6 months. We are creating the tools to help mothers breastfeed for longer.
Breast milk is unique due to genetics and differences in diet
There is an abundance of research demonstrating that one’s breast milk is individualized and unique. Comparisons between mothers have consistently shown differences in milk composition in terms of the levels of beneficial nutrients -- and harmful toxins.
Maternal diet and breast milk composition are highly correlated. The nutrient levels of breast milk have been shown to be directly associated with the health and development of the infant. Similarly, toxins passed through breast milk also influence child health. Our tests focus on the specific nutrients where evidence shows that maternal diet impacts levels found in breast milk. We intentionally avoid testing for nutrients where research does not show a correlation in diet and the levels found in breast milk, such as Vitamin D, zinc, phosphorus, sodium and selenium.
For those nutrients that are impacted by maternal diet, a change in diet by the breastfeeding mother, either through what foods they consume or supplementation, results in a change in the composition of her breast milk. Moreover, studies have found that diet modifications can have impact on the fat and caloric content of breast milk in as little as four days.
Lactation Lab is the most scientifically advanced breast milk test available
The creamatocrit breast milk test used by many NICUs and lactation professionals was first developed in 1978. It entails separating the fat from the milk and measuring it with a ruler to approximate the total calorie count. Despite significant innovation in lab testing in other areas of healthcare, this rudimentary test is still widely used in hospitals and support centers, over 40 years later simply because no other options existed -- until now!
Our proprietary tests were developed by a team of practicing physicians, PhD chemists and toxicologists. Our lab is located at the California Nanosystems Institute at UCLA, which is one of the most advanced research labs in the world. As of 2022, we are the only lab in the world that offers comprehensive nutritional analysis of breast milk. In a field that has long been neglected by science, we are pioneering academic research in breast milk composition and have published in several prominent scientific journals, including Breastfeeding Medicine and Clinical Lactation.