Breastfeeding is acknowledged by health professionals as the ideal source of nutrition for infants in almost every case. In addition, the nurturing relationship engendered by breastfeeding contributes to building a close bond between mother and child. Together, these factors promote the physical and emotional growth and development of the infant.
Long known to be true, too, is that breast-fed babies experience fewer and less serious incidences of disease and allergy than formula-fed babies. Gastrointestinal, respiratory, and middle-ear infections, in particular, are greatly reduced in breast-fed infants. In recent years, scientists at Penn and other institutions have sought to understand what it is about breast milk that makes it so protective for infants.
"What researchers have discovered is that breast milk is much more than just food," says Charles V. Clevenger, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine. "It's also a bioactive compound containing antibodies that defend against infection and hormones and growth factors that direct the infant's immune system to develop fully and appropriately."
For example, Clevenger's studies have shown that the hormone prolactin,
which is responsible for growth and differentiation of the breast during
puberty, pregnancy, and lactation, also plays a significant role in stimulating
immune-system cells in the infant. And while prolactin is primarily produced in
the pituitary gland, Clevenger's team found that tissues in the breast ar
Contact: Franklin Hoke
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine