The Global Fool

our planet is our village

Breastfeeding: Positive Influence on the Baby’s Intestinal Microbiota

By Roberta Attanasio

Breastfeeding is the normal way of providing young infants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development”, the World Health Organization tells us. Breastfeeding confers short-term and long-term benefits on both child and mother, and virtually all mothers can breastfeed, provided they have accurate information, as well as the support of their family, the health care system and society at large.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Babies are born ready to learn to breastfeed. During pregnancy a woman’s body gains weight and changes to support breastfeeding. Think of the first months of life as the “fourth trimester” where you and your baby get to know each other. Breastfeeding is part of getting to know yourself and your baby on a whole different level.”

BreastfeedingBaby

One of the benefits of breastfeeding derives from the influence of breast milk on the gut microbiota — the complex ecological community made up of the trillions of microbes that inhabit the gastro-intestinal tract. This community of microbes is extremely diverse and dynamic — it varies between individuals and it fluctuates according to several factors, as for example age, diet and disease. The gut microbiota colonizes babies at birth, and undergoes many changes during early life. It interacts with the immune system and it drives immune development and maturation from birth.

Bruce German, a food scientist (University of California, Davis), told Michael Pollan at the New York Times “Mother’s milk, being the only mammalian food shaped by natural selection, is the Rosetta stone for all food. And what it’s telling us is that when natural selection creates a food, it is concerned not just with feeding the child but the child’s gut bugs too.”

Results from recent studies indicate that early exposure to secretory IgA contained in maternal milk is important for maintaining a healthy gut microbiota. Secretory IgA is one of the different types of antibody and is a first line of defense in the intestine — it protects us from harmful microbes and toxins. It is also produced in the mammary gland by a specific cell type, the so-called plasma cell, and is a major component of breast milk. The beneficial effects of maternal secretory IgA persist even after weaning.

Now, results from a new study (Establishment of Intestinal Microbiota during Early Life: a Longitudinal, Explorative Study of a Large Cohort of Danish Infants) published this month in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, show that breastfeeding promotes the growth of lactic acid bacteria in the baby’s gut flora — these bacteria are beneficial to the development of the child’s immune system.

Tine Rask Licht, one of the researchers involved in the study, said “We have become increasingly aware of how crucially important a healthy gut microbial population is for a well-functioning immune system. Babies are born without bacteria in the gut, and so it is interesting to identify the influence dietary factors have on gut microbiota development in children’s first three years of life.”

The study shows that there are significant changes in the intestinal bacterial composition from nine to 18 months following cessation of breastfeeding and other types of food being introduced. However, a child’s gut microbiota continues to evolve right up to the age of three, as it becomes increasingly complex and also more stable.

“The results help to support the assumption that the gut microbiota is not — as previously thought — stable from the moment a child is a year old. According to our study important changes continue to occur right up to the age of three. This probably means that there is a ‘window’ during those early years, in which intestinal bacteria are more susceptible to external factors than what is seen in adults,” Tine Rask Licht explains.

The new findings could be used to support initiatives to help children develop a type of gut microbiota beneficial for the immune system and for the digestive system.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Author: Roberta Attanasio

Share This Post On

16 Comments

  1. This is a very interesting article. I’m a huge advocate of breastfeeding. We live in a society in which everything that we consume is artificially made. There is a huge misunderstanding that formula milk “mimics” the nutrients and benefits of breast milk which is not true. It does not contain the antibodies needed to enhance the baby’s immune system. A newborn retains the mother’s antibodies via passive immunity for only the first six months of life. Therefore, it makes sense that babies that are fed with formula milk are more susceptible to many illnesses due to the lack antibodies present for protection. I found a great article that states the benefits of breast milk to the baby.
    https://public.health.oregon.gov/healthypeoplefamilies/babies/breastfeeding/pages/benefits.aspx
    My question is what are the long term effects if a mother stops breastfeeding too early or too late? These benefits may encourage mothers to breastfeed as long as possible. I found an interesting article which states that newborns who were weaned too early or late were “three times as likely to develop Type One Diabetes.”
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2358753/Babies-weaned-months-times-likely-develop-type-1-diabetes.html

    Post a Reply
  2. I’ve heard of many advantages of doing breastfeeding before, and this also gives me interesting point of view about the breastfeeding. I think people should do more researches on breastfeeding related to our immune system. For the babies, their immunologic defenses are present but immature. As I learned from my class before called Infectious disease and society, through the placenta,immunoglobulin from mother goes to baby directly and stay until they get born. Additional immunoglobulins come after birth by breastfeeding, etc. However, I was wondering about negative aspects of long-term breastfeeding related to immune system. when I was trying to look for some answers to this question,I found out that there is no negative aspects. Breastfeeding only develops the babies’ immune responses and it also influence autoimmunity. (http://www.jaoa.org/content/106/4/203.full)Even though long-term breastfeeding gives babies bad structure of teeth, I strongly suggest that more researches should be performed to provide more protection by breastfeeding.

    Post a Reply
    • I do believe that more mothers should do long term breast feeding. There are more children that develop allergies and weaker immune systems due to the lack of nutrition because the mother may have stopped breastfeeding too early. As far as long term breast feeding causing teeth issues, as long as parents take the children to have dental checkups, then the child should be ok (http://gomestic.com/family/disadvantages-of-long-term-breastfeeding/).

      Post a Reply
  3. I have always heard that mothers should breastfed because it is the best source of nutrition. I never realized the effect that breast milk would have on protection against many infections to ensure a healthy balance in an infant’s gut. According to Dr. Alexander Rinehart, formula feeding does not produce the same antibodies as breast milk and the formula mostly focus on the major macro and micronutrients. Researchers have suggested that formula feeding plays an important role in the development of type 1 diabetes. My question is, I understand that all mothers want their baby to have a healthy, developing immune system but some mothers are not able to breastfeed, is there a possible alternate that have some of the same immune defenses as breast milk?

    In research, I found an alternate formula, Betapol which is a naturally produced supplement that is similar to human milk. http://www.betapol.com/ Although breast milk is the best choice that physicians suggest as the best source for infants to develop immune responses, there are alternatives which can have nearly the same effect as breast milk.

    Post a Reply
    • I was breasting feeding my first baby and she kept getting hives and choking after every feeding. I was lost and scared. However, after she completely stoped breathing one day, I finally got answers. She was allergic to cows milk protein. I had to switch her milk due to the things that I was eating made her sick. This was devastating to me. But she was placed on allumentim formula, and it provided her with all the important stuff, but she lack a lot of things in my opinion. Because now at the age of three she is allergic to fish, beef, and all dairy. Also has had a lot of gastrointestinal issues. Because I also have a two year who I breast fed for 18 months and she has no allergies, ear infections , and barely gets sick. I really understand the importance of breast feeding. So, even though formula can provide them with great nutrition, from personal experience I believe nothing can replace breast milk.

      Post a Reply
  4. This is a striking article, because I am a breastfeeding mother. I have exclusively fed one child until 18 months, and I can currently breastfeeding a 7-month-old now. Breastfeeding provides a lot of benefits for mother and baby, such as weight lost for mother and reduce diarrhea for baby. I have always known it was important to do, but I did not all the facts. I did learned from taking breastfeeding classes that a women’s milk supply is based on what she eats, drink, and her environmental surrounding. So with this being said, it is safe to say that no two women will have the same kind of milk. Also, every baby receives milk exclusively for them. Since, breast milk provides infants with microbes to help protect their gut from diseases, then does that mean in order for the baby to be protected do they have to be exclusively breastfed? I found that a baby’s saliva actually tell the mothers body what the baby needs in their milk. However it can take up to a month to change. (http://dralexrinehart.com/nutrition-benefits/importance-of-breastfeeding-infant-gut-development/). Also according to the article A Longitudinal Analysis of Infant Morbidity and the Extent of Breastfeeding in the United States, it is all about the dose of milk a baby consumes. Their study showed that even babies that were breast and formula fed for the first six months had little to no diarrhea. So I feel mothers should at least actually breast-feed their babies some for the first six months of life, and if not then at least the first couple of hours after delivery. Because the colostrum is the first milk made, and only provided for a few days after delivery of the baby. It provides antibodies and immunoglobulins that cannot be given any other time. It also provides the digestive tract with a boost of microbes that help with diarrhea.

    Post a Reply
  5. I completely agree that breast-milk is the best for babies and can provide a huge boost to the baby’s development. In order to obtain the benefits discussed in this article though, the diet of the mother must be very healthy. However, we live in a society of working moms where fast food is consumed more than healthy, homemade food. Is breastfeeding still advantageous in that situation?
    I found an article that discusses the increased intake of unhealthy, fast foods while breastfeeding can show to have the opposite effects on a child’s development (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265039.php). So, although breastfeeding is beneficial, maybe in some cases, formula may be more helpful if the diet health of the mother is not optimal. This would allow the child to have more nutrients than the mother can provide but is still no substitute to nutritional breast milk.

    Post a Reply
  6. Breast feeding is perhaps the single most effective thing that can be done for the developing immune system of an infant. I find it evolutionarily interesting that bacteria would be transported concurrently with breast milk. Not only is this valuable from an offensive point with the introduction of mother’s antibodies, it is also beneficial defensively in that it establishes the gut flora.
    Breastfeeding isn’t the only means to establish favorable bacteria. Studies have found that vaginal deliver is superior to c-section in terms of the immune system.

    From http://www.webmd.com/baby/news/20130211/c-section-formula-may-disrupt-good-gut-bacteria-in-babies , “Vaginal delivery, among other advantages, fosters the growth of trillions of good bacteria that reside peacefully in the human body (collectively know as a person’s microbiome), many of them in the intestine.
    Meanwhile, C-sections interfere with the newborn’s exposure to bacteria in the vaginal tract, bacteria that essentially trains the immune system to react appropriately to future events, according to study background information.”

    When it comes to newborns and there immunity, as natural as possible seems to be the better choice.

    Post a Reply
  7. I completely agree that breast-milk is the best for babies and can provide a huge boost to the baby’s development. In order to obtain the benefits discussed in this article though, the diet of the mother must be very healthy. However, we live in a society of working moms where fast food is consumed more than healthy, homemade food. Is breastfeeding still advantageous in that situation?
    I found an article that discusses the increased intake of unhealthy, fast foods while breastfeeding can show to have the opposite effects on a child’s development (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265039.php). So, although breastfeeding is beneficial, maybe in some cases, formula may be more helpful if the diet health of the mother is not optimal. This would allow the child to have more nutrients than the mother can provide but is still no substitute to nutritional breast milk.

    Post a Reply
  8. I completely agree that breast-milk is the best for babies and can provide a huge boost to the baby’s development. In order to obtain the benefits discussed in this article though, the diet of the mother must be very healthy. However, we live in a society of working moms where fast food is consumed more than healthy, homemade food. Is breastfeeding still advantageous in that situation?
    I found an article that discusses the increased intake of unhealthy, fast foods while breastfeeding can show to have the opposite effects on a child’s development (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265039.php). So, although breastfeeding is beneficial, maybe in some cases, formula may be more helpful if the diet health of the mother is not optimal. This would allow the child to have more nutrients than the mother can provide but is still no substitute to nutritional breast milk.

    Post a Reply
  9. Gut microbiota is a type of bacteria found in the GI tract and can be transferred from mother to baby through breast feeding. As stated in great detail in the article, this bacteria is important in helping the infant mature and grow in a healthy matter, especially playing an important role in the immune system. A baby is born without these bacteria and develop stable amount by the age of three, mainly from breast milk.
    So what if the mother breast feeding her child is a smoker? We have all heard the risks of nicotine exposure and respiratory disease that can occur if breast milk contains nicotine. According to an article by MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health (www.womensmentalhealth.org/posts/smoking-while-breastfeeding-what-are-the-risks/), there is a higher risk of a baby getting a respiratory disease if they are formula fed rather than breast fed even if there is a large amount of nicotine.
    Stating this fact, it can be inferred that breast milk contains different types of bacteria, including the gut microbiota, that provide protection for the baby and strengthen their immune system. Another article by Fooladi AA (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24304331) states that infants in third world and developing countries are more vulnerable to allergic diseases, and through their research, they think that the lack of gut microbiota by the age of three can be a major factor in their weakened immune systems.

    Post a Reply
  10. I have always been interested in the effects breastfeeding has on babies and their developmental growth, but never consider the substantial gain that it has on a baby’s gut flora. Without the production of the IgA antibodies that are provided by the mother during breastfeeding,this causes the babies intestinal gut flora to become underdeveloped and allows the child to be more susceptible to infections. Due to the babies immune system being so immature it can cause long term effects on a child. My concern is, if a mother is unable to breastfeed are there any alternatives to providing the same nutrients as breast milk by supplementing with infant formula? I found that yes, “with the addition of probiotics to infant formula it can positively affect immune function in nonexclusively breast fed infants”, as results show from a recent article,( Bifidobacterium lactis Bb12 Enhances Intestinal Antibody Responses in Formula-Fed Infants). http://pen.sagepub.com/content/36/1_suppl/106S. Whether its supplied naturally by the mother, or formula supplemented with probiotics they both are essential in the involvement of a baby’s healthy immune system.

    Post a Reply
    • I agree that probiotics can have a positive affect, but they can also affect the child negatively,especially a newborn. As you mentioned in your post above, the newborn’s immune system is immature, so everything the child is consuming has to be controlled more closely . Supplements like probiotics are not monitored, so having a newborn consuming such supplements can be harmful.

      Post a Reply
    • I have a feeling the breast versus formula debate will continue for many more decades. Advances in science though are narrowing the immunological differences between the two.
      Using probiotic formula is good because it introduces good bacteria to the infant intestine, but it has been found to lead to allergies due to the lack of diverse gut bacteria ( http://www.webmd.com/baby/news/20130211/c-section-formula-may-disrupt-good-gut-bacteria-in-babies ). On the other hand, prebiotic formula promotes growth of beneficial gut bacteria as would breast milk ( http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120229155540.htm ).
      I think the ultimate breast milk replacement should consist of both pre- and probiotics, everyone wins.

      Post a Reply
    • Your finding of how probiotics evoke the same effect as breastmilk is an interesting topic. I do agree that breastfeeding has a number of positive effects but I was wondering if their was another side to it. This caused to look further into the topic and research adverse effects. Are their any negative effects to breast feeding? How does this vary across populations? I could not find any true answers to these questions. the only true side effect is the possibility of passing harmful substances to the baby but those possibilities are self-limited (1).
      1.http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/feb/10/breastfeeding-best-debate

      Post a Reply
    • Your post makes a really good point because not all women are able to breastfeed and sometimes need an alternative. I have recently found that some women are using human donor milk as a supplement for premature babies since they can be more prone to getting necrotising enterocolitis. Research has found that human donor milk can help decrease this risk. I personally do not know anyone that has chosen this option, but the women that are eligible to be donors have stipulations they must follow so that the milk that is given to the children has adequate amounts of nourishment and also so that only healthy women are being picked as donors. This could even be a potential option that can be used for all women that might not be able to breastfeed, but there might be some opposition to this due to ethics. There is a lot more information on the website which can be found here: http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/docview/1348136862?accountid=11226. The results from the study can be found here: http://fn.bmj.com/content/88/1/F11.short.

      Post a Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *