While it’s a known fact that there are many physical and mental health benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and babies, according to the latest research, this might be due to genetic changes induced by breastfeeding. Dr Lester, one of the lead researchers said, “What we found is that maternal care changes the activity of a gene in infants that regulates the infant’s physiological response to stress, specifically the release of the hormone cortisol.”
Lester’s team of researchers, looked at more than 40 full-term, healthy infants and their mothers, one-half of whom breastfed for the first five months and one-half of whom did not. They measured the cortisol stress reactivity in infant saliva using a mother-infant interaction procedure and the DNA methylation (changing the activity of the DNA segment without changing its sequence) of an important regulatory region of the glucocorticoid receptor gene which regulates development, metabolism, and immune response.
“Breastfeeding was associated with decreased DNA methylation and decreased cortisol reactivity in the infants. In other words, there was an epigenetic change in the babies who were breastfed, resulting in reduced stress than those who were not breastfed,” said Dr Lester.