Breast-feeding plays important role in ‘seeding’ infant microbiome with beneficial bacteria

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UCLA-led study finds that nearly one-third of beneficial bacteria in baby’s intestinal tract comes directly from mother’s milk

A study led by Dr. Grace Aldrovandi found that babies who breast-feed even after they begin eating solid food continue reaping the benefits of a breast milk diet.

Mothers protect their babies and teach them habits to stay healthy and safe as they grow. A new UCLA-led study shows that beneficial bacteria from mothers do much the same thing.

The study found that 30 percent of the beneficial bacteria in a baby’s intestinal tract come directly from mother’s milk, and an additional 10 percent comes from skin on the mother’s breast. What’s more, babies who breast-feed even after they begin eating solid food continue reaping the benefits of a breast milk diet — a growing population of beneficial bacteria associated with better health.

After birth, beneficial bacteria from the mother and environment colonize the infant’s intestine, helping digest food and training the baby’s immune system to recognize bacterial allies and enemies. But scientists still don’t completely understand the mechanisms that help babies establish a healthy gut microbiome — the diverse community of bacteria that inhabits the intestines.

“Breast milk is this amazing liquid that, through millions of years of evolution, has evolved to make babies healthy, particularly their immune systems,” said Dr. Grace Aldrovandi, the study’s senior author and a professor of pediatrics and chief of infectious diseases at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital. “Our research identifies a new mechanism that contributes to building stronger, healthier babies.”

The findings appear in the May 8 issue of JAMA Pediatrics.