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Breastfeeding Provides Iodine to Infants

Update Date: Nov 26, 2013 03:37 PM EST

Several studies have reported that breastfeeding can be extremely beneficial for newborns. Breastfeeding has been tied to higher IQs (intelligence quotients) and better cognitive functions. In a new study, researchers found that breastfeeding increased the levels of iodine for newborns.

Iodine helps with healthy development especially for infants. A deficiency can stunt growth and damage the nervous system. For this study, researcher Raschida Bouhouch, a Ph.D. student from the Laboratory of Human Nutrition at ETH worked with fellow colleagues to examine the levels of iodine in 241 mother-and-child pairings in Morocco. The researchers administered an iodine capsule to half of the mothers and a placebo to their children. The other half of the mothers was given a placebo and their children received an iodine capsule. The pills were given immediately only once between birth and eight weeks. The team then measured iodine concentration in breast milk and urine over the span of nine months.

The researchers found that mothers given the iodine capsule did pass iodine to the infant. However, the infant's urine revealed that the iodine concentration was still below the critical threshold at nine-months. For the mothers, however, their iodine levels reduced drastically and the iodine capsule was not enough to bring those levels back up.

"The mother's body is apparently programmed to put all its iodine reserves into nourishing the child and does not keep sufficient reserves for itself," explained Bouhouch according to a press release.

The researchers also found that when infants were given the iodine capsule, the iodine levels were lower than the levels measured in babies who got iodine from breast milk. The researchers believes that babies might be better at absorbing iodine through breast milk as opposed to a capsule.

"That does not mean that direct iodine administration is not a good thing," said Bouhouch. "It would be better to give the mothers iodine twice instead of only once a year."

The study, "Direct iodine supplementation of infants versus supplementation of their breastfeeding mothers: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial," was published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.

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