Increasingly, research is highlighting how the bacteria in our gut (microbes) and their associated immune cells (gut microbiome) play an important role in our health.
In its early stages the gut microbiome is highly plastic, meaning it can be easily altered. As children develop their gut microbiome becomes more resistant to change.
4 Facts About Breastfeeding And Babies’ Gut Microbiome
Depending on what early life events occur when we are babies, an ideal or a non-ideal gut microbiome may be ‘locked-in’ well into adulthood.
A non-ideal gut microbiome is associated with increased risk of various diseases including autoimmune diseases and allergy.
Therefore, how we are fed as babies can influence our health in the long-term.
Here are 4 facts about breastfeeding and babies’ gut microbiome.
#1: Breastfeeding Is Not Sterile For Important Reasons
It used to be thought that breastmilk is sterile. However, it’s not and for a very good reason.
Breastmilk contains a diverse range of bacteria (probiotics) that are thought to help establish a healthy gut microbiome. Breastmilk also contains prebiotics (food for the probiotics in the gut). In fact, the third most abundant component in breastmilk are oligosaccharides (prebiotics) and breastmilk has over 100 kinds!
The probiotics and prebiotics passed onto babies through breastmilk may be an important part of developing a healthy immune system.
#2: Bacteria From Breastmilk And Mother's Skin ‘Seed’ Babies’ Guts With Beneficial Bacteria
When breastfeeding, babies ingest bacteria from the mother’s areola skin and her breastmilk.
Bacteria from mothers’ breastmilk and skin are most prominent in their babies’ guts in the first month of life. Around 40% of the gut bacteria in babies who are predominately breastfed is from breastmilk and skin contact.
#3: Breastfed Babies Continue Reaping Benefits Even After Solids Are Introduced
Even after solids are introduced into a baby’s diet, probiotics in breastmilk continue to influence the establishment and development of a baby’s gut microbiome.
Indeed, breastmilk continues to be an important aspect of a child’s health regardless of how long they breastfeed for.
#4: The More Breastmilk, The Better, For The Gut Microbiome
Changes in a baby’s gut bacterial community are influenced by how much and how often breastfeeding occurs over a period of time.
This highlights the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for around the first six months of a baby’s life and for breastfeeding to continue alongside solid foods for at least one year, or longer if the mother and child desire.
Breastmilk clearly has an important influence on the establishment and development of babies’ gut microbiome and could have a far-reaching impact on their health in the long-term.