USA: gene activity may ease stress of breastfed babies

07 December 2018

Breastfed babies react less to stress because of epigenetic changes made by maternal behaviour, a study suggests.

Breast Feeding iStock

Researchers from Brown University analysed 42 healthy babies, half of whom where breastfed for the first five months. They measured the cortisol stress reactivity in infant saliva as well as DNA methylation.

Lead researcher Barry Lester said: ‘Maternal care changes the activity of a gene in their infants that regulates the infant’s physiological response to stress, specifically the release of cortisol.

‘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.’

The paper was published in Pediatrics.

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