How gut health is pioneering innovation in infant formula development

That ‘breast is best’ has long been known by infant feed professionals. The challenge for baby formula manufacturers is therefore to make products that can come as close as they can in replicating the unique diversity and complexity of human milk and reassure those women who cannot or choose not to breastfeed that their babies can enjoy healthy growth and development.

Part and parcel of this challenge is to use science as a key driver of innovation and product development. And Danone, among others, is concentrating its efforts on advancing its understanding of breast milk composition and functionality to develop its breast milk substitutes.

Working at the cutting-edge of infant nutritional health is Dr Rocío Martín, a Senior Director Global Medical Affairs and Health Innovation for Danone’s Specialized Nutrition arm, known for its Aptimil formula brand.

The wonder of human milk 

Human milk is “impossible to mimic exactly”,​ she admitted. “It’s the first personalised nutrition that you can have… Breast milk is a very complex fluid and it provides the best nutrition for infants but is also tailored for their needs. For instance, if a baby has a cold, the mother’s milk will actually adapt to provide the baby what it needs at that moment.

“Increasingly, however, we have a better picture of…macronutrients, composition of fats, lipids, carbohydrates, and we look at that and mimic what we can to bring it as close as possible.”

Breastfeeding is also an important factor in establishing an infant’s immune system and is associated with reduced risk of childhood obesity, allergies and asthma and NCDs. While these links have been known “for many years”,​ knowledge on how breast milk and breastfeeding can help establish a healthy gut microbiota early in life is quickly emerging, Martín explained.