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Breast milk component boosts baby's cognitive development

By Nikki Hancocks contact

- Last updated on GMT

Getty | Natalia Deriabina
Getty | Natalia Deriabina

Related tags: Infant nutrition, oligosaccharides, Cognitive health

The oligosaccharide 2'FL found in breast milk enhances cognitive development, according to a new study from the US.

Researchers from Children's Hospital Los Angeles and the University of California, San Diego, carried out a cohort study of 50 mothers and their babies in order to analyse the effect of their breast milk composition and frequency of feeding on cognitive development.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, showed that the amount of 2'FL in breast milk in the first month of feeding was related to significantly higher cognitive development scores in babies by two years of age.

However, the amount of 2'FL in breast milk at six months of feeding was not related to cognitive outcomes, indicating that early exposure may be more beneficial.

Many studies have reported a positive effect of breastfeeding on cognitive development​ but this study aimed to specifically identify what was causing this effect.

Study collaborator and co-author Lars Bode, PhD, Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Mother-Milk-Infant Center of Research Excellence at the University of California, San Diego, said: "Through our high-throughput analytical platform we can quantify oligosaccharides like 2'FL and many others in hundreds of breast milk samples in a short period of time.

"This technology allows us to associate differences in milk composition with specific infant outcomes like cognitive development, validating existing data from preclinical models or generating entirely new hypotheses."

Using a statistical technique called mediation analysis, the investigators were able to independently evaluate the effects of breastfeeding in general, and the effects of the oligosaccharide 2'FL.

Paige Berger, PhD, RD, a postdoctoral research associate at CHLA and the first author of the study, said: "This enhanced cognitive development in the first two years of life raises the question of possible long term impact on a child¬-in school and beyond."

These observations allowed the team to conclude that the increased neurodevelopment provided by breastfeeding was due primarily to mothers who were producing more 2'FL.

Cognitive development was measured at 24 months using the Bayley-III scale, a standardised test of infant and toddler development.

Michael Goran, PhD, Director of the Diabetes and Obesity Program at The Saban Research Institute of Children's Hospital Los Angeles and senior author on the study, said: "We know that there are many different compounds in breast milk and the composition is dynamic - it changes over time and is highly variable between mothers.

"In addition to identifying the impact of oligosaccharide 2'FL, we also wanted to determine the timing of when it is most critical to a child's development."

Being able to identify factors critical to early neurodevelopment offers the possibility for supplementing women's breast milk in individuals who produce lower quantities of this important substance.

"For some women, breastfeeding is a challenge. For those that are not able to breastfeed or can only do so short-term, 2'FL could potentially be offered as an add-on to the nutrition their baby is receiving to better support cognitive development,"​ said Dr. Berger.

Source: PLOS ONE

Human milk oligosaccharide 2’-fucosyllactose links feedings at 1 month to cognitive development at 24 months in infants of normal and overweight mothers

Goran. M. I., et al

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0228323

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