With the influx of research and information showing how breastfeeding is essential for a baby’s growth and well-being, it’s not a surprise to see that U.S. breastfeeding rates have been on a steady climb for the past several years. So, is another study on the benefits of breastfeeding really necessary? Well, yes. The new research comes to us from researchers in Switzerland. Scientists found that healthy bacteria, which is crucial for digestive health and immune function, can actually travel from a mother’s digestive system into her breast milk where it nurtures the digestion and immune activity of her child.
Many women, especially young and poor mothers, are misled about the benefits of formula feeding. Around the world formula is seen almost as a status symbol to the detriment of infant health. So, new research showing that mother’s milk can give babies a digestive edge is important.
“We are excited to find out that bacteria can actually travel from the mother’s gut to her breast milk,” said lead researcher Professor Christophe Lacroix. “A healthy community of bacteria in the gut of both mother and baby is really important for baby’s gut health and immune system development. “
For the study, published in Environmental Microbiology, scientists tested the DNA of mothers’ breast milk and their exclusively breast-fed one month old babies. They also tested fecal samples of both children and their mothers. The researchers discovered identical strains of the microbe Bifidobacterium breve and “several types of ‘good’ Clostridium” in both babies and the breast milk.”
“This study shows that gut-associated anaerobes may be vertically transferred from mother to neonate (infant) via breastfeeding. Our data supports the recently suggested hypothesis of a novel way of mother-neonate communication, in which maternal gut bacteria reach breast milk via an entero-mammary pathway to influence neonatal gut colonization and maturation of the immune system.”
The role of healthy gut bacteria in people of all ages has been increasingly explored in the scientific world. An unhealthy balance of gut bacteria has been linked to everything from mental illness, obesity, and even autism.
In the decade from 2000 to 2010, rates have jumped a whopping 14%—from 35% to 49% in babies six months of age. Approximately 77% of U.S. newborns are breastfed, and 27% are still being fed breast milk at 12 months of age. For breastfeeding mothers, the research means keeping your digestive system in check while nursing is of utmost important. Eat foods that encourage and even replenish gut bacteria like fermented foods. Also avoid antibiotics (which destroy all bacteria) whenever possible.