Exercise causes key breast milk change that helps protect lifelong health

It's well known that breast milk offers beneficial compounds that help a newborn thrive and that may help protect them from various conditions later in life. A new study has found that the amount of these beneficial compounds varies based on, in part, how active the nursing mother is. Exercise was found to increase the amount of beneficial, protective compounds in breast milk, helping promote lifelong health in the baby.

A number of past studies have linked healthy mothers with healthier offspring; as well, breast milk is known to offer health benefits that babies don't get from formula. The latest study out of Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center explored the potential connection between these two things, finding that exercise has a direct impact on breast milk composition.

Key to the findings is that the health benefits offspring from healthier mothers experience is not genetic, but rather based on the breast milk they receive. This was determined by giving the newborn pups of sedentary lab mice breast milk sourced from mice that were active during their pregnancy. The pups were found to be healthier than mice given breast milk from sedentary mothers.

The study wasn't limited to just mice, however, with the researchers also collecting activity data using trackers on around 150 pregnant and postpartum women. The mothers who took the most steps per day were found to have higher amounts of 3SL in their breast milk, a compound that is heavily linked to protective health benefits.

This doesn't mean the increased amount of the compound is the result of a particular intensity of exercise — the researchers say that even moderate exercise like getting in a certain minimum number of steps daily may ultimately result in healthier children. Health benefits associated with the compound include reduced risks of developing obesity, heart disease, and diabetes later in life.