It’s possible that mammary glands ‘remember’ pregnancy. New research suggests that pregnancy causes epigenetic changes that can help increase milk production in future pregnancies.
When comparing mice that had been pregnant before with first-time moms, researchers found that mammary glands showed signs of milk production more quickly in the mice that had already had litters.
When mice were exposed to pregnancy-related hormones, researchers saw changes in genes in their mammary cells that were involved in milk production. These changes lasted for several months. The research suggests that pregnancy helps the body develop a kind of ‘memory,’ which helps prepare for future pregnancies.
So… why does this matter? Well, it suggests that events that occur over someone’s lifetime can change a person’s epigenome. This particular research may be good news for moms, who could find that breastfeeding is easier the second and third times around. But it also may provide clues as to why pregnancy can reduce a woman’s chance of breast cancer later in life- could similar epigenetic changes be at work? Read more about this research here.