Breast milk carbohydrate promotes cognitive development in infants

Breast milk carbohydrate promotes cognitive development in infants

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Breast milk has positive effects on babies

Breast milk has a significant impact on the development of babies. It has now become known that a carbohydrate contained in breast milk has a positive effect on the development of the nervous system and improves the cognitive development of infants.

A recent study by Children's Hospital Los Angeles and the University of California, San Diego found that breast milk has a positive impact on cognitive development in infants. The results of the study were published in the English language journal "PLOS ONE".

Effects of oligosaccharide 2’FL on animals

Breast milk has been shown to affect a baby's development. Previous animal studies have found that a carbohydrate (oligosaccharide 2’FL) contained in breast milk has a positive effect on the development of the nervous system.

Positive effects have also been found in human infants

The researchers at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, in collaboration with the University of California, San Diego, found in their study on humans that the 2’FL found in breast milk promotes cognitive development. In the cohort study with 50 mothers and their babies, the research group analyzed the composition of breast milk and the frequency of feeding at the age of one and six months.

2’FL seems to be having a big impact in the first month of breastfeeding

Cognitive development was measured at 24 months of age using the Bayley III scale, a standardized test for the development of infants and young children. The study showed that the amount of 2’FL in breast milk in the first month of feeding was associated with significantly higher levels of cognitive development in infants two years old.

Early exposure appears to be more beneficial

The amount of 2’FL in breast milk six months after breastfeeding was unrelated to cognitive outcomes, indicating that early exposure may be more beneficial.

2’FL was quickly quantified in hundreds of breast milk samples

Many studies have reported positive effects from breastfeeding on cognitive development. In their current study, the researchers wanted to determine the exact cause of this effect. The high-throughput analytical platform used in the study enables oligosaccharides such as 2’FL and many other substances to be quantified in hundreds of breast milk samples in a short time.

Differences in milk composition were carefully examined

This technology enables differences in milk composition to be linked to specific results in infants such as cognitive development, to validate existing data from preclinical models or to generate completely new hypotheses, the researchers report.

Are there any long-term effects of 2’FL?

Using a statistical technique called mediation analysis, the researchers were able to evaluate the effects of breastfeeding in general and the effects of oligosaccharide 2’FL independently of one another. The improved cognitive development in the first two years of life raises the question of possible long-term effects on a child in school and beyond.

The composition of breast milk is dynamic

The research group came to the conclusion that the increased neuro-development caused by breastfeeding is primarily due to breast milk, which contains more 2’FL. It is known that there are many different compounds in breast milk and the composition is dynamic, it changes over time and differs from mother to mother.

When is 2’FL particularly important for development?

In addition to identifying the effects of oligosaccharide 2’FL, the researchers also wanted to determine when the carbohydrate is most important for the development of a child.

Does the positive effect of 2’FL only occur during the first months of life?

During the first months of a baby's life, so-called neuroenhancement was observed due to a higher 2’FL content. However, if the 2’FL content of breast milk was considered at the time of six months, such an effect could not be determined.

2’FL as an additive in baby food?

The ability to identify factors that are critical to the early development of the nervous system offers the ability to supplement breast milk from women who produce only minor amounts of this important substance. Breastfeeding is a real challenge for some women. For those who cannot or can only breastfeed for a short time, 2’FL could possibly be offered as a supplement to their baby’s diet to better support cognitive development. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Paige K. Berger, Jasmine F. Plows, Roshonda B. Jones, Tanya L. Alderete, Chloe Yonemitsu et al .: Human milk oligosaccharide 2'-fucosyllactose links feedings at 1 month to cognitive development at 24 months in infants of normal and overweight mothers, in PLOS ONE (published 02/12/2020), PLOS ONE

Video: Breastfeeding and Cognitive Development (July 2022).


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