Yet Another Amazing Benefit of Breastmilk Discovered

Did you know breastmilk can do THIS?

It's no secret that breastmilk has some pretty incredible benefits for your baby—and recent research suggests there might be yet another way breastmilk can literally save your child's life. 

A study from Imperial College London finds reason to believe that a type of sugar found in breastmilk could ward off Group B streptococcus, which is a potentially life-threatening bacterium that can lead to meningitis in infants. This is powerful stuff: According to the study's authors, these bacteria are the leading cause of infection in the first three months of a baby's life.

Not all women produce the same sugars in their breastmilk—something called the Lewis Antigen System determines the breakdown of sugars each woman's breastmilk has. The study's authors tested breastmilk from a group of mothers to determine the protective powers of particular sugars. Then they tested both the mothers and their infants for the Group B streptococcus at three separate times (right after birth, six days after birth, and between 60 and 89 days after birth). According to the findings, women who produced breastmilk sugars associated with the Lewis gene were less likely to have the bacteria in their guts—and as a result of this, were less likely to transmit it to their babies. Infants of mothers who produced a sugar called lacto-n-difucohexaose I were more likely to clear the bacteria 60 to 89 days after birth; according to researchers, this indicates that breastmilk sugar linked to the Lewis gene could have a protective effect. Additionally, these sugars can boost the "friendly" gut bacteria in infants, which can help eliminate any harmful bacteria.

Ironically, the bacterium in question could actually be transmitted from mother to child through breastmilk: It can exist in a mother's vagina or bowels before being carried to the child via childbirth or nursing. However, researchers suggest the naturally occurring sugars in breastmilk can protect against Group B streptococcus. These sugars, known as human milk oligosaccharides, are not digested and remain in a baby's stomach to protect against infection, according to a release from Imperial College London.

This is definitely not the first time we've heard about breastfeeding's protective benefits for both mother and child: Breastfeeding can help mothers break their smoking habits, strengthen a preemie's chances of thriving, and ward off SIDS. There's no doubt about it: Breastmilk is an amazing, amazing thing...and this research gives us yet another reason to believe it has no substitute.

According to a release for this study, this sort of research is prompting companies to try adding similar sugars to formula milk; however, lead author Nicholas Andreas, Ph.D., believes it would be difficult to replicate them synthetically. "These experimental formulas only contain a couple of these compounds, whereas human breast milk contains dozens of different types," Dr. Andreas said, according to Science Daily. "If we know whether a mother is colonised with Group B streptococcus and know if she carries an active copy of the Lewis gene, it may give us an indication of how likely she is to pass the bacteria on to her baby, and more personalised preventive measures could be applied."