benefit to mother’s breast milk—bacteria

Another benefit to mother’s breast milk—bacteria

Women's Health,

One of the miracles of the human body is the maternal production of breast milk, a mixture of fats, sugars, hormones and other elements that, acting together, can completely sustain a newborn child. It may be surprising to learn that one important component in breast milk is bacteria.

The microbiome and breast milk

We have discussed the human microbiome; the trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that inhabit our skin, mouth, and intestinal cavities. In a state of good health, we live in harmony with these organisms. We act as their host and keep them alive. In exchange, they perform essential duties for our health such as helping digestion, producing vitamins, and blocking infection by other potentially dangerous microorganisms.

Baby gets microbiome too

In the uterus, the baby is without a microbiome, but as soon as he exits the mother, he begins to aquire his first microbiome. In mothers who give birth naturally—through the vagina—the baby inherits his first organisms from his mother’s birth canal.

Babies born by cesarean section are denied this advantage. They miss out on this important exposure to the natural microbiome when they are born through a sterile incision in the belly. New research is showing that the best possible “starter” bacteria come from the vaginal canal, so cesarean babies do not seem to develop an ideal microbiome.

Metabolic problems for babies

Researchers believe this is the prime reason babies born by cesarean section have a greater tendency to become obese while infants, and amazingly, even later in life. So establishing an ideal microbiome at the beginning of life seems to be critical in the short as well as the long term. Cesarean section babies have weaker immune systems as well, and are more likely to suffer from food allergies, asthma, and diabetes.

Breast milk vs. formula

Part of the disadvantages a baby suffers from a cesarean section can be lessened by drinking his mother’s breast milk. Until recent technical advances. identifying bacteria in breast milk has been challenging. New research is showing that healthy breast milk contains various strains of bacteria. The most important one seems to be Bifidobacteria. This bacteria helps the baby digest special sugars in breast milk called human milk oligosaccharides.

Bifidobacteria is of course not found in formula, and, unfortunately for mothers that need to pump their breast milk, pumped milk (taken from a bottle) contains a much reduced amount of bifidobacteria. There also is an advantage for the baby to be exposed to the mother’s breast skin and nipple. These areas are full of the right bacteria in a healthy mother, which she passes to her baby by close contact.

Pumped milk

While pumped milk does not contain significant Bifidobacteria, it does contain the other rich nutritional components (such as sugars, fats, hormones, and antibodies) in natural breast milk. So, for the mother who cannot breast feed but can give pumped milk, she should do that rather than rely on artificially mixed formula. While formula manufacturers are constantly working to create better formula, they will never make the perfect mix DNA-tailored to that baby made by his own mother.

Baby on antibiotics

Some babies require antibiotics in the first few weeks of life. While these drugs may be needed to fight off a serious infection, as a side effect they wipe out the baby’s natural gut microbiome. Thus, babies who have been on antibiotics especially need breast feeding, if possible, to somewhat reverse the antibiotic’s bomb-like effect on a baby’s gut.


While there are many factors involved in deciding on natural vs. cesarean section delivery, if the parents put the health of the baby in number one position, natural vaginal delivery is much better. Likewise, if possible, babies should be breast fed rather than formula fed.

Finally, this advice from Dr. Meghan Azad, a pediatric researcher at the University of Manitoba (Canada). “One thing that’s clear is that there’s a dose response, meaning that every bit counts,” she says. “So even if you can’t do six months of breast-feeding, if you can do partial breast-feeding, or if you can do one month, or one week, that’s definitely better than none.”

To find a doctor, of any specialty, anywhere in Brazil, check out our website:

See also in ProcuraMed:

Brazil said to have highest rate of Cesarean section births in the world

8 health benefits for a breastfed baby

Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)

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This post is related to specialty Pediatrics. Below is a list of some physicians related to this specialty.