A substance that is so powerful that it is truly life changing, life saving. And we can make it ourselves for free? If the benefits from breastfeeding were packaged in a pill, remember breastfeeding is good for both mothers and babies, we would all be buying it. We would be giving it to our babies. Right?
I just got back from a conference where I heard a woman speak about breastfeeding and epigenetics. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure of what epigenetics were but I was very intrigued.
So what are epigenetics? Here is one definition: “The term epigenetics refers to heritable changes in gene expression (active versus inactive genes) that does not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence; a change in phenotype without a change in genotype. This in turn affects how cells read the genes. Epigenetic change is a regular and natural occurrence but can also be influenced by several factors including age, the environment/lifestyle, and disease state.” Here is a super simple explanation. Basically, our genes, our DNA, stays the same but the genes can be amplified, dimmed, shut off, or turned on, depending upon environmental factors surrounding us. We also inherit not only our parents DNA but some of not only their phenotypes, but from many past generations. There is a fascinating historical event, the Hongerwinter, that showed that several generations were influenced by what happened to their parents, grand parents, and great grand parents. Our physical environment, nutrition, emotional health, and stress, all can change our phenotype which in turn make us who we are, warts and all!
Here’s where the breastfeeding and magic pill ideas come in. What we eat and how we are fed influence our phenotypes which in turn influences what happens with our DNA. In human babies, their DNA and phenotypes expect human milk to be delivered from the breast. This food and feeding method, amplify healthy genetic traits and dim unhealthy traits. On the other hand, formula feeding is a challenge to our genetic materials. Different traits are dimmed and amplified.
Humans have been evolving for about 200,000 years. We have always been breastfeeders up until very recently. What if this new way of feeding babies, artificial baby milk, is a great genetic game changer? We have only been able to do this as a species at all for about 11,000 years, once we started domesticating milk producing animals. Before this time, no nursing, no baby. This introduction of other mammal’s milk allowed some babies to survive that normally would not be able to. Notice I said survive. Many other babies were not able to tolerate another mammals milk and did die. Now, we have developed a product that helps babies grow and survive in ways we never were able to before, so not breastfeeding is a true option.
Except when they are born early. These littlest babies need this magic pill. If mama’s own milk is not available, using banked human milk is our next choice. These little ones are susceptible to many health risks that are rare for a term baby. This is not only beneficial for these little ones to survive, but it is very cost effective.
- Average costs depending for NEC (Necrotizing Enterocolitis) on surgical type $398,173 to $276,076 per baby (Stey et al, 2015)
- $216, 666 per NEC survivor. Current estimate would be much higher (Bisquera et al, 2002)
- About $4.50 per oz. Every $ spent on banked human milk is $11 saved. http://www.nann.org/advocacy/agenda/reimbursement-for-donor-breast-milk-for-preterm-infants.html
- A day in the NICU costs $3500 vs about $30 per day for banked human milk http://www.marylandbreastfeedingcoalition.org/files/HB180_FACT_SHEET.pdf
Necrotizing enterocolitis is one of the biggest threats to these preterm babies. There is an event coming up on Saturday, May 14, 2016. In Ann Arbor we are meeting at 10 am in County Farm Park. We are raising funds for Best for Babes. They are hosting the Miracle Milk Stroll. This event raises money and awareness of using banked human milk for sick or preterm babies. Please support this event if you can!
Back to a pill and epigenetics, if a pill could improve epigenetics in all the ways breastfeeding can, we would all take it.