There have been numerous studies done on maternal health and how it affects newborns and early childhood health and development. There have also been countless studies done on breastfeeding. But for the first time, a group of researchers has tackled the possible link between maternal health, breast milk, and infant growth. It's an important topic, and an area that needs to be studied further. However, this new study is an interesting first look at how maternal health and weight may affect infant growth through breast milk and breastfeeding.
Researchers at LSU Health New Orleans have found that a woman's pre-pregnancy weight or obesity may affect her breast milk, which can affect infant growth. This is the first study of its kind (again, more research is certainly needed to establish a pattern), but the findings are definitely interesting. Breast milk contains several pro-inflammatory proteins, such as tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) and interleukin-six (IL-6). It also contains anti-inflammatory polyunsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3 (DHA) and omega-6 (EPA). Prior to this study, it was unknown how the interaction of these proteins and fatty acids affected infant growth.
Researchers compared polyunsaturated fatty acids, inflammatory markers, and hormones in breast milk to infant length, weight, head circumference, and fat mass percentage in the same group of 33 women at 4-8 weeks postpartum. The women were split - some had BMIs within a healthy range pre-pregnancy, while the rest had BMIs that put them in the overweight/obese category.
The researchers found that the pro-inflammatory components of breast milk were associated with normal infant growth, regardless of the mother's pre-pregnancy weight. But infants born to women who were overweight or obese (according to their BMI) pre-pregnancy had less growth response to breast milk. In other words, those infants responded less favorably to breast milk, and did not demonstrate the same growth as infants whose mothers were within a healthy BMI range pre-pregnancy.
Researchers summarized that breast milk contents may vary depending on the mother's pre-pregnancy weight, and those differences could impact the growth and development of breastfeeding infants. We'd be interested to see more research on the subject, but the findings of this particular study are interesting nonetheless.