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  • Exercising before breastfeeding boosts a hormone that protects against diabetes.
  • Engaging in high-intensity exercise boosted adiponectin, which regulates metabolism.
  • Researchers believe high-quality breast milk may prevent childhood obesity.

TRONDHEIM, Norway — New mothers may be able to “supercharge” their breast milk with one simple step. A new study finds women can enhance the health of their babies by breastfeeding after exercising.

Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have found that intense exercise boosts the levels of a hormone in breast milk, which protects babies against diabetes and helps regulate their metabolism. Many mothers wonder if exercise impacts the quality of their breast milk. Until this study, there was no definitive answer, with some even concerned that their milk might sour from physical activity.

“There are so many myths about exercise and breast milk. We simply need to know more,” says Trine Moholdt, an NTNU researcher, in a university release. “The primary aim of our research is to find out if we can limit the development of overweight in children.”

The team collected 240 samples of breast milk from 20 new mothers both before and at specific intervals after two exercise sessions, then compared these with samples taken at the same intervals after periods of sedentary behavior.

The mothers who just completed a vigorous high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session exhibited higher levels of the hormone adiponectin in their milk. Adiponectin plays a crucial role in regulating the body’s metabolism, ensuring the availability of energy and essential substances for bodily functions.

This hormone is absorbed through the intestines of breastfeeding infants, influencing their metabolic processes. Low levels of adiponectin are linked to insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes.

Mother breastfeeding baby
Researchers have found that intense exercise boosts the levels of a hormone in breast milk, which protects babies against diabetes and helps regulate their metabolism. (© Rawpixel.com – stock.adobe.com)

“In fact, the period from conception to two years of age is considered the most critical period for possible development of obesity later in life,” says Moholdt. “The hormone is secreted from fatty tissue and enters the bloodstream, and much of what is in the blood goes into the milk. We were not that surprised by the findings, but now we know for certain.”

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, reveals that moderately intense exercise did not affect this particular hormone in the same way.

In 2020, the World Health Organization estimated that 39 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese. The incidence of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents five and 19 years-old increased from four percent in 1975 to 18 percent in 2018.

Research indicates that nutrition during early life can partially determine health in later years, contributing to the rapid rise in childhood obesity. This is one reason the WHO recommends breastfeeding for the first six months of life, as breastfed children are less likely to become overweight or obese compared to those who are formula-fed.

However, recent studies indicate that the composition of breast milk varies between mothers with high and low body mass indexes. These differences in breast milk composition may influence the transmission of obesity from mother to child.

“We now have the first result of all the work we are doing, and many more results are on the way. It will be very exciting going forward,” Moholdt concludes.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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