Since the start of my research, I have since compiled multiple, ranging studies, all of which analyzed the composition of breast milk with regards to fat content. When I started the research, I did not expect to compare anything other than data and results. However, this study grew as I started to compare studies from different decades, countries, and additional information, such as human breast milk nutrients compared to formula nutrients. I even got as far as studying how and why human breast milk is composed the way it is and the long-term effects on the newborn consuming the milk.
A condensed summary can say that human breast milk is composed mostly of fat, though the fat content in milk decreases as time goes on. Human breast milk is more nutrient and beneficial to babies then formula milk. However, over the past few decades, formula milk has been changed to more closely resemble the compositional makeup of breast milk, which in turn has resulted in a more nutritious formula milk. Breast milk across different countries does vary, and this can be attributed to the diets of different countries. Over decades in the same country, human breast milk has also changed. For example, in the United States, human breast milk has become more dense in fats and fatty acids, which is great. This increase in healthy fat content of breast milk can be attributed to the addition of and more natural processing of vegetable oil and other healthy fat containing foods and staples. In terms of infants themselves, consumption of breast milk shows a stronger immune system compared to consumption of formula milk. Breast milk contains several immune system-strengthening components which help infants grow, as well as decrease the risk of conditions such as asthma. The one consistent aspect of most of the studies conducted are the methods used to collect and analyze the breast milk samples: chromatography. In this common method, the breast milk is separated so that the individual components of the milk can be studied.
As I collected data, many questions arose. For instance, I saw very dramatic differences in free fatty acid profiles across studies that ranged both by decade, location, and methods of data collection. I was able to justify these differences through analysis of external factors, such as technology evolution, different diet and environmental conditions (pollutants, air quality, etc.). I also had questions about breast milk composition, such as how many fatty acids are present, which was answered through research.
I experienced challenges when comparing data from different experiments. This is because each research paper was written differently, therefore it become somewhat difficult to find consistent data that could be comparable. For example, some papers compared four fatty acids, and another paper compared four different fatty acids. This was overcome by finding and using the data from multiple papers. That way, there are no discrepancies in data.
The successes I experienced came as I began to gain confidence in research paper analysis. As I read more, I learned about more techniques, methods, and overall facts. My vocabulary increased, as well, and since I want to be an OBGYN, knowledge in this area is definitely a plus.
As a premed student hoping to become an OBGYN, this research was deeply intriguing and exciting for me. I was able to gather a tremendous amount of information on topics that are both truly interesting to me as well as high value considering the line of work I hope to enter. Learning about the composition of breast milk and how it effects newborns gave me insights into the importance of breast feeding, and just as importantly, eating healthy foods while pregnant and during lactation. I additionally learned a great deal about research methods, ethical collection of data, and how to write a research paper. I knew very little about chromatography before this research, as well as other methods such as the FAME, Folch, and Creamatocrit methods. Overall, this research was truly empowering, as I was able to obtain knowledge in a field I’m passionate about while also gaining confidence in research processes.