Study finds fast food diet before pregnancy can affect breast milk and baby’s health in mice

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New research has found that a diet high in sugar and fat can negatively impact a new mother’s breast milk and baby’s health in mice even before conception.

The study, published in the journal, Acta Physiologica, was conducted by scientists from the Sferruzzi-Perri Lab at the Centre for Trophoblast Research, University of Cambridge, and the Department for the Woman and Newborn Health Promotion at the University of Chile in Santiago, Chile.

According to the study, researchers exposed mice to a diet containing high fat and high sugar (HFHS) from three weeks prior to pregnancy with the goal of determining the impacts on fertility, gestational, and neonatal outcomes. Their results showed that even relatively short-term consumption of a fast food diet impacts the mother’s health, reducing their ability to produce nutritional breast milk after giving birth.

In addition, the researchers found that even a short-term HFHS diet impacted the survival of the mice pups in the early period after birth, with an increased loss during the time the mother was feeding her offspring. Milk proteins are important for newborn development but the quality was found to be poor in mouse mothers eating the high fat, high sugar diet, according to the study.

“We wanted to know what was going on, because the mothers looked okay, they weren't large in terms of their size,” said Amanda Sferruzzi-Perri, PhD, co-lead author of the study and professor in fetal and placental physiology at the University of Cambridge, in a statement. “What we found was that although the mice seemed to have okay rates of getting pregnant, they did have greater amounts of adipose – fat tissue – in their body in and at the start of pregnancy.”

According to the study, when the investigators looked at how the mother may be supporting the baby after pregnancy, they found that her mammary gland development and her milk protein composition was altered, and that may have been the explanation for the greater health problems of the newborn pups.

The researchers stressed that in mothers-to-be who look healthy, regardless of their food intake, subtle, but potentially dangerous changes in pregnancy may slip under the radar.

“The striking part is that a short exposure to a diet from just before pregnancy that may not be noticeably changing a woman’s body size or body weight may still be having implications for the mother’s health, the unborn child, and her ability to support the newborn later,” Sferruzzi-Perri said.