Sunday, August 22, 2010

"So For God's Sake, Please Breastfeed"

That quote comes to us courtesy of one of three (male) researchers at the University of California, whose research on breastmilk has recently led to a fascinating discovery. Up to 21% of breastmilk consists of complex sugars which cannot be digested by babies. Scientists had no idea what these sugars were doing in there. As anyone who as ever assembled a piece of Ikea furniture knows, just because you can't figure out where it goes, doesn't mean it doesn't have a purpose. It turns out that these sugars are not meant for the baby, at least not directly. Rather, they are for helpful bacteria (which I'll shorthand as bifido), which take up residence in the baby's gut, and protect it from harmful bacteria. The sugars both feed the bifido bacteria, and also serve as "decoys" for harmful bacteria and viruses. In short, the indigestible component of breastmilk turns out to be vitally important to the infant's immune system. Hence the hortatory exclamation from the researcher, which, you must admit, is rather uncharacteristic of a scientist.

NY Times article re immune function of indigestible sugars in breastmilk

Now, it's all well and good to urge women to breastfeed, but to mandate it by law, that's another matter. That's apparently what the government in Indonesia is trying to do. Under a law passed in 2009, which is set to go into effect in October of this year, mothers who fail to provide 6 months of exclusive breastmilk for their infants face up to 1 year in prison, or a $15,000 fine (unless medical conditions which preclude breastfeeding are shown to exist). Other people, such as employers who prevent breastfeeding, will also be subject to punishment. I wonder if next year they'll tell people how many children they can have. 

bifidum longum

1 comment:

Melissa King said...

Wow! So cool about part 1.

Not sure what to say about part 2.