April 10 (UPI) -- Whether a mother is a healthy weight or obese will largely predict the body composition of her child. Now, researchers may have moved a little closer to figuring out why.
New findings show that the molecular makeup of the breast milk of an expecting mother who is obese differs from an expecting mother at a normal weight, which could affect the weight of her child, according to a study published in April in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The researchers think that mothers with obesity and normal weight have varying metabolites that contribute to their children's weight composition.
"Childhood obesity increases risk for type 2 diabetes, and a host of other health complications. Our aim is to identify the earliest risk factors that predict obesity in children," said Elvira Isganaitis, a researcher at the Joslin Diabetes Center and study lead author, in a news release. "We know that one of those factors is nutritional exposures in the postnatal period."
When a child reaches 1 month old, overweight or obese, and normal weight mothers had 10 metabolites that distinguished their breast milk. Three of those were complex carbohydrates that could affect gut microbiota. By the time the child hits 6 months old, the study showed 20 different metabolites in overweight and normal weight mothers.
"Our findings suggest that a specific mix of factors -- nucleotide derivatives and complex carbohydrates -- could be therapeutic targets to improve the profile of breast milk and possibly protect children from obesity," Isganaitis said.
The obese mothers also had milk adenine, which is linked to weight gain in babies.
The researchers say knowing how a mother's breast milk could affect a child's weight may give health professionals better insight on how to advise parents on better diet or exercise habits.
"Breastfeeding should be promoted and supported. Ultimately, we would like to identify the metabolic pathways that allow breast milk to be beneficial in terms of infant weight gain, and other child health outcomes," Isganaitis said. "The hope is that this data could also inform ways to make baby formula more protective in terms of future childhood obesity risk."