During this summer, I was lucky enough to conduct research alongside my professor and mentor, Dr. Mojica. My research consisted of compiling multiple existing studies on breast milk fatty acid profiles and comparing them. Essentially, my comparative research aimed to examine not only breast milk composition, but also why and how it ranges.
My analysis compared studies based on where they were conducted (location), when they took place (year), what sample of breast milk was used and how it was obtained (how many women, their health, what period of lactation, how old the mothers are), fat content (g/mL), free fatty acids (specifically arachidonic acid, linoleic acid, and docohexaanoic acid), how the sample was prepared, and what instrument was used to analyze the breast milk composition. Throughout the course of the research, I began to analyze different aspects of the studies, as well, such as breast milk nutritional value compared to formula value, and the benefits of breast feeding.
My research ranged widely in terms of location, year, instruments used, and sample preparation. Locations ranged from here at home, the United States of America, to the northeast region of China, Iran, Germany, and Poland. In terms of year the study was conducted, I originally wanted to only used recent studies, therefore obtaining research that is most modern and uses the most efficient and accurate technology. However, as I emerged myself deeper into my research, I began to feel obligated and interested in including older studies. This way, I can see data results which will inform me how and if breast milk fatty acid profile analysis has changed over the decades. Due to this, my oldest study was from 1981. With my most recent study being originally published in 2016, my comparative analysis spanned 35 years. As predicted, technology to analyze breast milk has changed. While the same technology was used, the advancement in that technology was apartment. While chromatography was the most common instrument used across the decades, the 1981 study was not able to analyze and pick out nearly as many fatty acids as modern day chromatography. In terms of sample preparation, the most common methods were the FAME method, creamatocrit method, and Folch method.
After my comparative analysis, I was able to clearly see that fat content makes up the majority of breast milk. This is very important, as these are healthy fats that are necessary to the growth of infants. Fat content in breast milk ranges from 1.63-3.19 grams per milliliter depending on where the mother is in her lactation. Fat content in breast milk changes during the span of a women’s lactation. Despite this, all studies were conclusive in the amount of fat content analyzed in breast milk samples. Additional research saw that over the past century, fat content in breast milk has actually increased. This is due to diets which include more healthy fat staples, such as less processed vegetable oil. Fatty acid profiles ranged across my findings, perhaps due to the fact that all my research was collected from different locations, years, and used different sample obtainment and analysis methods. However, a range in fatty acids may also be due to the fact that the different studies use different units of analysis. Some studies gave fatty acid profile percents of breast milk, others gave fatty acid ranges depending on where a mother was in lactation (some studies took one initial sample to analyze, others analyzed the change in women’s breast milk over time of breast feeding, etc.).
Thus far, I have achieved many accomplishments. I am extremely proud of the fact that I was able to carry out research that was important to me. This process increased my confidence in the lab and in the field of science. I was able to read and understand professional reports, analyze them, and then compare them. I am also thankful for this opportunity, which turned my summer into a four-month long adventure. Not to mention, this research has given me a great conversation starter.
From my involvement in this program, I have been able to transform my image of myself. Before this research, I was a student in the science department of Pace. Now, I am a limitless researcher who has endless support from my mentor, Dr. Mojica, as well as a newfound confidence not only in myself, but additionally in the amount of incredible opportunities Pace offers. I am truly grateful for Dr. Mojica for trusting me with this great task, providing support, and leading me to this deeply rewarding research program. I am appreciative to Pace for this grant, which has encouraged and motivated me to keep perusing science, now with more excitement and drive then I thought was possible.