Genetic Material In Breastmilk – 3 Interesting Facts

Genetic Material In Breastmilk – 3 Interesting Facts

Human breastmilk is the normal food for human babies. For this reason alone, science doesn’t have to prove its importance. Nonetheless, research has provided an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence about the importance of breastmilk for the health of babies and their mothers.

Breastmilk is a complex substance, and science is only beginning to unravel some of its complexities. It’s almost impossible to determine exactly what substances in breastmilk are specifically important for various health outcomes. It’s unlikely to be specific factors, but rather a host of factors acting together, that produce the desired outcome.

One thing that underlines the importance of breastfeeding is the fact that mothers pass on genetic material (e.g. exosomes, stem cells) to their babies through their breastmilk.

3 Interesting Facts About Genetic Material In Breastmilk

Here are some interesting facts about genetic material in breastmilk:

#1: Exosomes In Breastmilk Might Support The Development Of The Immune System

Breastmilk contains exosomes. Exosomes are found in various body fluids and communicate with other cells to change the behaviour of those cells. Packaged inside exosomes are various molecular constituents of their cell of origin, including microRNAs (miRNAs).

It has been speculated that these exosomal miRNAs (transferred to babies via their mothers’ breastmilk) could play an important role in the development of the infant immune system.

Exosomes and miRNA are in formula but the miRNAs in cows’ milk are damaged during pasteurisation, and so in formula they are not biologically active.

#2: Stem Cells In Breastmilk May Contribute To Tissue Development In Babies

The discovery, in 2007, that stem cells were present in breastmilk provided scientists with a new means of harvesting them, to research treatment for various conditions such as spinal injuries, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease etc.

It has been proposed that stem cells in breastmilk could contribute to tissue homeostasis, repair, and/or regeneration in babies.

#3: Genetic Material From Another Mother Can Be Passed On To A Baby Via Milk Sharing

Milk sharing can result in genetic material from one mother being passed on to babies other than her own, via her breastmilk. While this might sound strange at first, wouldn’t we rather our babies received human genetic information rather than genetic information from another species?

Breastmilk doesn’t only deliver nutrition. It also provides information for a baby’s DNA. Again, it’s not up to science to prove the importance of various factors in breastmilk. If it is there, it’s most likely there for an important biological reason. It does make for interesting research though.

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Renee Kam IBCLC CONTRIBUTOR

Renee Kam is a mother of two daughters, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.


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