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HHS HealthBeat (July 6, 2012)

Breast milk and good bacteria

A woman breastfeeds her child.
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From the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, I’m Ira Dreyfuss with HHS HealthBeat.

Babies can’t digest part of what’s in breast milk – but it’s still good. At the University of Illinois, Sharon Donovan examined molecules called HMOs, which are not food for babies but do feed beneficial bacteria in the gut. Donovan says these bacteria can protect against infection and strengthen the immune system.

Human milk abounds in HMOs. Formula doesn’t have them, so other sugars called prebiotics are added. Donovan compared HMOs with the formula version, and found bacteria did better on HMOs.

“We’re just looking at one small aspect, but we know that breastfeeding and breast milk does a lot of other things for the infant.”

The study in the Journal of Nutrition was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

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HHS HealthBeat is a production of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. I’m Ira Dreyfuss.

Last revised: July 6, 2012