It’s science: Sugars found in breast milk can help fight off infection

These sugars are known as human milk oligosaccharides—or HMOs.

It’s science: Sugars found in breast milk can help fight off infection

Breast milk has a lot of wonderful and beneficial properties that scientists are still discovering. It contains nutrients and compounds that can protect your baby's health and boost their growth and development.

And now, according to new research, we know that breast milk contains complex sugars that not only have a hand in building a baby's microbiome, but also help them fight off infection.

These sugars, known as human milk oligosaccharides—or HMOs —"appear to provide a growth advantage for good bacteria," Steven Townsend, assistant professor of chemistry at Vanderbilt University writes in an analysis of his research into complex sugars found in human milk for The Conversation. "Breastfed babies tend to be colonized to a lesser extent by infectious species, meaning they get sick less."

That's because, Townsend continues, the microbiome in breastfed infants are abundant in two bacteria species: Bacteroides and Bifidobacteria. Both species live on humans on a daily basis, but are generally harmless. "They live in the human gut where they use human milk oligosaccharides as energy sources to grow, whereas pathogens do not," he adds.

Science already shows that these HMOs have a tremendously positive effect on an infant's health. Previous research has linked breast milk's protective properties to these complex sugars. A 2013 Nature study, for example, found that these complex sugars can cut down the length of time babies have diarrhea caused by a rotavirus infection. And researchers behind a 2005 Annual Review of Nutrition study found a link between the protective attributes of human breast milk and the HMOs contained within it.

To investigate further, Townsend and his team looked at Group B strep bacteria, which all mamas-to-be are tested for in their third trimester. Group B strep is generally harmless to healthy adults, but the bacteria can pass to the baby during childbirth, increasing their infection risk. And what they found is that HMOs acted as antibiotics against Group B strep. "In an initial study, we tried to grow Group B strep both in the presence and absence of HMOs," Townsend says. "It turned out that HMOs do prevent the growth of Group B strep bacteria."

This research is great news for women who breastfeed, but not all moms can or want to nurse. And that's something the researchers understand. Their goal moving forward, Townsend writes, is to "figure out exactly how these sugars are working and why specific women produce sugars that are more antimicrobial."

This way, he continues, researchers who have a deeper understanding of which HMOs are vital to an baby's health can synthesize the compounds so that they can be added to formula and other infant food products. Because we all know that fed is best. "A better quality infant formula that more closely mimics human breast milk may help close the health gap between breastfed and formula-fed babies," Townsend concludes.

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I'm a mom of three under 3 so a lot of my time the last couple of years has been spent feeding babies. I started this journey of motherhood convinced that I was going to feed my babies from my chest, but they all had different plans and I had to learn to quickly adapt. So I became an exclusive pumper to provide my babies with as much of my breast milk I could give them.

In these last three years, I've tested almost every single breast pump in the market. I needed to know what pump was best for my needs as a working mom, someone who travels a lot and juggles many kids. I've pumped at home, in the car, on airplanes, at restaurants; whatever place you can think of, I've pumped there.

Yet somehow, I had never used a Medela pump, (mostly because I didn't want an open-system pump, especially after having twins since it meant an extra step and item to clean) except for during my brief hospital stays while recovering from C-sections. After both of my births, my milk took a long time to come in so the nurses suggested I pump to see if I could get some colostrum to feed my babies and help things happen a little faster.

So when I was given the chance to test Medela's new Pump In Style with MaxFlow breast pump, I was super excited—after all, it's a brand moms love, trust and rely on.

Spoiler: I was obsessed. Here's some of my favorite features:

It's super compact.

I was pleasantly surprised when I first opened the box and found a super compact and light pump. Unlike the pluggable pump I used the first time around with my son, this one was small enough to fit in my pumping caddy without the risk of falling out. It comes with a small fabric tab that makes it easy to carry around when needed.

It's super powerful without being uncomfortable.

As soon as I started my first pumping session, I realized that its compact size didn't mean it lacked power. It is mighty. In a few minutes, my pumping bottles were full of milk and needed to be replaced by new ones. But what is more important to me, is that my nipples were so comfortable, which meant I could pump for the 30 minutes the session lasts without any discomfort. I especially liked that the rim of the breast shields is soft, which meant my boobs were also super comfortable while I pumped, and even allowed me to massage closer to the pump to make sure all my milk was coming out. These breast shields are unique to the Medela pump—the oval shaped shields features an 105 degree angle that better fits the breast, allowing milk to flow more freely.

It's a closed system.

The tubes never come into contact with milk, which makes cleaning so much easier since I focus on the bottles and flanges only. It's also so easy to set up the first time, I didn't even need to read the instructions because it's all pretty straightforward and intuitive. Also, the tubes don't tangle; they stay connected to both the bottles and the pump, so there's no readjusting needed to be done mid-session.

It can be used on the go.

This is something that I look for in all my pumps, the ability to move around, because I'm always multitasking. This pump comes with a battery pack that allows you to do just that. It also comes with a bag and ice packs for you to store everything you need while you are out and about with or without your little one.

It increased my milk supply.

I started testing this pump when I was ready to drop a pump a day to have some more free time to do other things around the house. I had been afraid of dropping a session because I didn't want to see a decrease in milk production by doing so. This pump allowed me to maintain the same amount of ounces pumped with one less session, which is literally everything I wanted. This can be credited to the MaxFlow Technology, the first-of-its-kind in the market, the way it works is that it generates a vacuum with micro-vibrations to get more milk, faster, making the process of emptying my breasts much more optimized.

After using it for weeks, I now get why so many moms trust and love Medela pumps. This pump was designed with the pumping mom in mind, and that's why I'm excited to make it my top pump in my roster.

This article was sponsored by Medela. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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