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Benefits Of Breast Milk

November 3, 2008 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 86, ISSUE 44

I WAS SURPRISED and delighted to see the beautiful photograph of a nursing baby on the cover of your Sept. 29 issue. This is especially impressive because I still recall the first controversial breast-feeding photographs on the cover of magazines about parenting just a few years ago. As a nursing mother myself, I was further delighted to read the insightful and educational cover story.

I not only learned more facts to support my gut feeling that "breast is best," but I was able to proudly show the issue to my La Leche League support group, so they will see the cutting-edge scientific studies as well. I am an active member of my ACS local section, and one of my challenges as a councilor and National Chemistry Week coordinator has been to involve younger chemists. This article, which specifically applies to our younger members who are now growing their families, is a great step toward reaching out to this elusive population of our membership. Kudos to C&EN!

Abby Kennedy
Oakland, Calif.

I TYPICALLY GLANCE quickly at the cover picture when I get my new issue of C&EN, but I admit that rarely does it entice me to immediately read the related story. This was not the case with your issue featuring the science of breast milk. Although you may be getting notes from readers who find your photo distasteful or worse, I applaud you for being willing to boldly feature a photo that tactfully and beautifully highlights what is literally one of the most natural things known to humanity.

As a mother of a beautiful seven-month-old daughter, I read all the books, took the prenatal classes, and easily reached the conclusion that nothing could be better for my child than the food that I could provide for her. Science may never be able to equal the complex advantages of true mother's milk (not only providing basic nutrients but also passing on antibodies to a child's developing immune system, as well as accustoming children to some chemical components of an adult diet). Nevertheless, I am happy to hear that research is ongoing to better understand how breast milk is able to give so many benefits both immediately and later in a child's life.

Many mothers are unable to provide milk (or enough milk) to their babies, and this understanding could be critical in allowing these children to receive the best nutritional balance possible. I wonder also if such research has been conducted on colostrum, the "pre-milk" substance produced by new mothers in the first few days after birth before the actual milk "comes in." Colostrum is known to be highly beneficial to newborns and especially preemies, so any way to synthetically emulate this for mothers who are medically unable to provide it themselves could prove extremely useful.

Thank you so much for featuring this issue in such a positive manner. Society has come a long way in its acceptance of breastfeeding, but there are still many who shun this wonderful act and do not understand its benefits. I hope that your story makes a few people reconsider such opinions.

Leanna Shuster
Havertown, Pa.

AS AN ACS MEMBER and a lifelong professional in the field of milk and lactation, I was delighted to find and read your article on mother's milk. An important part of the story seems to be missing, however.

In contrast to your rather nebulous characterization of the fat globule surface, it is known to be covered with projecting filaments—like whiskers, if you will. This was shown by the elegant freeze-etch electron microscopy of Wolfgang Buchheim as long ago as 1982 and was confirmed by transmission electron microscopy. In subsequent studies, the filaments were isolated and shown to consist of two mucins. These mucins are both genetically polymorphic: two alleles, one from each parent, provide a unique personal signature that each mother puts on her milk-fat globules.

I discuss the discovery of these mucins and their possible health effects in my book, "Milk: Its Remarkable Contribution to Human Health and Well-Being" (Transaction Publishers, 2004, pages 72–73 and 243–245).

Stuart Patton
La Jolla, Calif.

AS A LACTATION consultant practicing at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, I found your article an extraordinary approach to a favorite remark: "Babies are born to be breast-fed." How wonderful it would be if all the fabulous facts being discovered and documented by your investigation team could be directed to the promotion of breast-feeding rather than to the improvement of formula.

Engineers, thanks for all you do in a profession that thinks its way past today to a better future, bringing changes that benefit humankind.

Susan J. Gerhardt



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