It has been known for a long time that mother’s melatonin entrains the circadian rhythms in the SCN (suprachiasmatic nucleus) of the embryos – thus they are born with a correct phase (time of day). However, a study in rats suggests that melatonin in mother’s milk is unlikely to be able to entrain the pups circadian rhythms after they are born.
So, the appearance of melatonin in the milk of breastfeeding humans may either be:
a) just a by-product of melatonin being produced for all its normal functions in the mother and really has no role for the infant,
b) it may have a function in boosting the immune response,
c) it may be directly helping the infant scavenge free radicals, or
d) unlike in rats, milk melatonin may be involved in entrainment of human infants.
Much more research needs to be done….
You can read more about biological, medical, cultural and political aspects of breastfeeding here, here, here and here.
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