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  • Writer's pictureAllissa Gaul ND

Your Baby is a SUGAR BABY!

Updated: Oct 4, 2018

Let's talk about the miracle sugars that are in your milk.

Lactose is a primary fuel provided by breastmilk

Yes, that’s right, breastmilk is a very rich source of the sugar called lactose (milk sugar). In fact, human breast milk is the richest source of lactose of any milk (much higher than cow milk!) Many adults are very unhappy about lactose in their diet, thinking that lactose is creating big problems for them and they are “lactose intolerant”. But the truth is that genetic lactose intolerance, which is where you do not make enough lactase, the enzyme to digest lactose, is quite rare. (And if you think lactose makes your tummy bloat, go read about SIBO here!)

Lactose is a big constituent of human milk because it provides 40% of infant energy requirements. That’s a lot! The amount of lactose in the milk is completely independent of the amount of lactose ingested by the mother. The lactose from breastmilk that is not utilized as food for the baby has other functions. Lactose is used for improving the non-specific immune response of the infant, helps to maintain the consistency of “breastfeeding stool” like a mild laxative, and most importantly, feeds certain bacteria in the digestive tract.

The indigestible sugars are just as important in breastmilk

And that is just one component of what we call breastmilk! There is plenty of fat and protein, also for nutritive purposes. But there is another fascinating component to breastmilk called the Human Milk Oligosaccharides, which is a third of the composition of breastmilk. These are large sugar molecules that are literally indigestible by the baby. Each mom can have many dozens of different HMOs and the kinds that are found in each mom is related to her genetic coding of them.

Human Milk Oligosaccharides protect the gut from infection and speed brain development

What the HMO does is act as a prebiotic for the bacteria in the infant’s guts, in particular Bifidobacterium infantis. The normal colonization with these organisms encourages the growth of gut and brain through their interaction with HMOs. In particular, when HMOs are eaten by the Bifidobacterium, one of the breakdown products is sialic acid, which is a substance that improves myelination, neuron growth and quantity of nerve connections. HMOs protect the surface of the gut and are direct immune modulators because they interfere with the way that pathogenic bacteria and virus can attach to gut cells. These bacteria include Campylobacter, Salmonella, E.coli, Norwalk virus, Influenza virus, Candida and others. Human Milk Oligosaccharides also can rein in Group B Strep – 70% of women make the right HMOs to prevent that infection.

Formula can’t imitate these unique factors in breastmilk

In formula, there has been an attempt to put in prebiotics that might have some similar effect as your own breastmilk’s HMOs on the promoting of the growth of Bifidobacterium. However those FOS/GOS supplements that are used in formula (these are other kinds of sugars) cannot modulate the behavior of the Bifidobacterium, so you can’t get the same immunological protection from FOS alone.

The longer you breastfeed, the longer your child has the advantage of high levels of Bifidobacterium. This produces significant advantages long term in that it has been shown that longer exposure to high levels of Bifidobacterium decreases the risk of obesity and metabolic disorders over the lifetime.

You can improve levels of your HMOs in your breastmilk to be a better baby defender!

Two things have a known impact on HMO quantity: getting good exercise and having a diet that suits you.

The exercise part can be easy! Get out there with your baby and move your body!

Eating a balanced diet with a mix of different foods improves your own microflora and increases the HMO in your milk. The basic (non-individualized) mix for a great diet looks like this:

I suggest that people understand their metabolic type when attempting to make a good diet for themselves. This is method for individualizing the diet. For more about metabolic types, see here.

High fat diets in moms create poor flora in infants. So if you are one of those “I am eating 4 avocadoes per day because it has good fats” people, you might want to re-think it! A balance of foods is needed for healthy function in all humans.

I'll be back soon with more mama/mammo-facts!


Dr. A


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