Researchers claim that exercise during pregnancy creates a compound that can increase the quality of breast milk. In addition, it can lower a child’s lifelong risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. A new study suggests that exercising more can help pregnant women make their breast milk more nutritious. The latest animal studies have shown that mothers who exercise before and during pregnancy pass on protective measures against impaired glucose metabolism, decreased cardiovascular function and obesity.
Do more exercise during pregnancy
However, the medical community is still unsure of the exact compound providing the benefits. The researchers believe that oligosaccharide 3′-sialyllactose (known as 3′-SL or 3’SL), a compound found in breast milk, protects infants. Together with other milk oligosaccharides, 3’SL is likely only synthesized in the mammary gland and only during breastfeeding. The study published in Nature Metabolism highlights research on mice and humans. The research team studied mice that were born to sedentary mothers.
The researchers then fed them milk from female mice that were active during their pregnancy. They observed the mice for a year after they were breastfeeding. Just supplementing 3’SL during breastfeeding improved glucose metabolism, reduced fat mass and body weight in males, and preserved cardiac function in female offspring. In addition, the researchers observed that the mice fed 3’SL and fed high-fat diets while they were breastfeeding were protected from the harmful effects of a high-fat diet.
Research on human breast milk
In humans, the team looked at around 150 pregnant and postpartum women who wore activity trackers. They discovered that the subjects who took more steps per day had higher amounts of 3’SL. Higher 3’SL scores were not necessarily related to exercise intensity. Therefore, even moderate exercise such as a daily walk is enough to reap the benefits. Researchers aren’t sure if postpartum exercise can maintain 3’SL levels or how much exercise is required to keep levels high enough to help infants. In the future, they hope to determine the mechanism by which 3’SL improves metabolic health and cardiac function in offspring and how exercise increases 3’SL in milk.
Exercise has been shown to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. New mothers are prone to these health conditions. However, this does not mean that every new mom should exercise during pregnancy. This study does not address the idea of overexertion or the potential negative effects a baby-mother dyad can have if the mother is overwhelmed, either physically or psychologically. There are documented benefits in women who are unable to exercise for other ways to support their child’s microbiome. The study authors however, would like to see more factors in future research related to exercise and baby food. These would be, for example, the diet of the pregnant mother, as well as her sleep quality and her mental state.