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Does Breast Milk Impact Our Circadian Rhythm? 

baby bottle with milk

You know how they say you are what you eat? Well, as far as breastfeeding goes, it might also be appropriate to say "you are when you eat." Researchers just looked into how this biological process may play a big role in how babies develop their day/night cycles. Does breast milk impact our circadian rhythm? 

A recent report looked into how breast milk might play a vital role in developing our circadian rhythm, or our and other organisms' tendency to operate physiological process over a day/night sleep/wake cycle. This process is not only used for notifying you when it's time to get up and get active, but it also plays the same role determining biological functions. For example, our digestive process has its circadian rhythm and eating during the wrong hours causes a lot more work and inefficient use of the food that one's eating. 

Breast milk, as several studies have shown is filled with "chrononutrition," or specific compounds and proteins that may help growing babies develop biological queues for their own circadian rhythm. From birth through about a year of a new born’s life, medical experts recommend they feed on breast milk for their nutritional intake. 

While getting this nourishment, breast milk also includes chemical compounds that give time-of-day information to a new born’s developing body. Morning milk is rich in cortisol, a "get up and go" compound, meanwhile night time breast milk delivers high levels of melatonin and tryptophan to usher in rest and sleepy time. 

Cool information, but what do we do with this? Well, upwards of 85% of moms who breastfeed use a pump to store milk for later feedings. These findings suggest that mistimed milk feedings could yield some untimely issues for the developing baby. For example, a night time feeding using pumped and stored activity-promoting morning milk could very well act like turning the lights on right at bedtime, jolting the new and developing circadian system. 

Researchers have mentioned several ways to help ensure right-time, right milk meals ranging from policy being put in place to give mother’s more paid leave to allow for proper times to feed their newborn to simpler methods also include things as easy as labeling pumped milk with timestamps to make sure the right milk is given at the right time of day. 

This article was published in the journal Nature for those curious to read their findings. For those who don’t have time to read the whole story on breast milk, it’s still worth a skim.