Virgin Mary breastfeeding Jesus

Virgin Mary breastfeeding Jesus
Nursing Madonna (wikimedia commons)

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Breast Milk and Bacteria in the Gut

Recently there have been more and more research studies on the importance of certain types of bacteria in breast milk and in a baby's gut, so I thought I'd post some info on the topic.

As you probably know, we need certain types of bacteria in our intestines in order to stay healthy.  Some types cause serious illness.  Other types like acidophilus help keep us healthy.  Pick up a container of yogurt and you can see all the "good" bacteria it claims to contain.
 
What is the best environment for colonizing a baby's gut with beneficial bacteria?
One study in Pediatrics in 2006 concluded that the "most important determinants of the gut microbiotic composition in infants were the mode of delivery, type of infant feeding, gestational age, infant hospitalization, and antibiotic use by the infant."  Full term babies born vaginally at home and exclusively breastfed contained the largest amounts of beneficial bacteria in their guts (1).  Therefore taking care of one's self while pregnant to increase the chances of a full term baby, birthing at home if possible and breastfeeding exclusively will all increase your baby's odds of having a gut filled with lots of "good" bacteria.

What types of bacteria are found in breast milk and what are their benefits?
Bifidobacteria is one type found naturally in breast milk.  It assists 
the intestines in tolerating the harmful bacteria (and possibly also gluten) and
avoiding inflammation.  Bifidobacteria and lactobacilli help with digestion 
(2).  Staphylococci, lactic acid bacteria, propionibacteria, and Gram-
positive bacteria are other types found in breast milk.  Exposure to varied 
types of bacteria help the body fight off diarrheal and respiratory diseases, 
reduce the risk of diabetes and obesity, and help the immune system mature 
properly (3).


Written by Gina Peterson, BS, IBCLC

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