We’re always amazed to learn of the incredible benefits breast milk can provide to our little ones.
A recent study has found yet another awesome way breast milk can give vulnerable premature babies the boost they need to thrive and grow.
Scientists found that the breast milk of mothers with premature babies has different amounts of microRNA than that of mothers with full-term babies.
MicroRNA is a molecule that affects gene expression and may help premature babies catch up in growth and development by influencing their metabolism.
Researchers from Penn State College of Medicine examined samples of breast milk taken from mums whose babies were born prematurely between 28 and 37 weeks’ gestation and compared them to samples from mums whose babies were born at 38 weeks or later.
They took 36 samples from mums of full-term babies and compared them with 31 samples taken from mums of preemies.
In the lab, they extracted the RNAs and compared them to the human genome to pinpoint differences.
Scientists found nine specific RNAs which were slightly different in the milk of mums with premature babies.
They found that these microRNAs target metabolic processes and may help regulate gastrointestinal function and energy use in premature babies.
Premature babies are at risk of many health problems, including underdeveloped lungs, neurodevelopmental delays and failure to thrive. They also are smaller than full-term babies and therefore, have different nutritional needs.
According to Professor Steven Hicks, assistant professor of paediatrics at Penn State, these findings may explain why premature babies tend to do better when breastfed by their own mothers.
"The unique microRNA profiles that we found in premature breast milk seem well suited to premature infants because they target metabolic pathways that could spark catch-up growth”, he explained.
He also noted that the findings could serve as useful research for matching babies with donated breast milk.
"For a variety of reasons, babies who are born preterm often rely on donated breast milk," Hicks said.
"Often, that milk comes from a mother who gave birth at term and has been breastfeeding for months. That milk may not be optimal for a 32-week premature infant who was born two days ago".
He also said that these findings could be used to help produce better baby formula.
"MicroRNAs are an epigenetic material that is made by our bodies and is not present in formula. So even though formula is made to mirror the nutritional components of breast milk -- carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins -- it doesn't have any of these epigenetic factors.
"It is possible to create microRNAs in a lab and put them in formula. This approach might help bridge the health gap we see between formula-fed and breastfed infants”.