Scientists from Switzerland have discovered that important beneficial bacteria arrive in babies' digestive systems from their mother's gut via breast milk.
The study, published in Environmental Microbiology, was led by Professor Christophe Lacroix at the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health in Switzerland.
Lacroix found the same strains of Bifidobacterium breve and several types of Clostridium bacteria (which are important for colonic health) in breast milk, and maternal and/or neonatal feces. Infant health experts believe that these strains are involved in establishing a critical nutritional balance in the baby's gut and may be important to prevent intestinal disorders.
"We're not sure of the route the bacteria take from gut to breast milk but, we have used culture, isolation, sequencing and fingerprinting methods to confirm that they are definitely the same strains," said Lacroix. "A healthy community of bacteria in the gut of both mother and baby is really important for baby's gut health and immune system development."
The new work adds weight to the argument that "breast is best," but Lacroix said the findings could also help to develop new formula infant milk that more closely mimics nature.
He added that future research will hopefully complete the picture of how bacteria are transferred from mother to neonate. "With a more thorough knowledge, we can decide which bacterial species will be most important as probiotics in formula. But until then, for neonates at least, the old adage is true, breast is best."
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Source: Environmental Microbiology