Scientists have found that important ‘good’ bacteria arrive in babies’ digestive systems from their mother’s gut through breast milk.
The study confirms that when it comes to early establishment of gut and immune health, breast milk is best for babies.
The findings throw light on how babies acquire a population of good bacteria and can also help to develop formula milk that more closely mimics nature.
“We are excited to find out that bacteria can actually travel from the mother’s gut to her breast milk,” said lead researcher Professor Christophe Lacroix at the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health, ETH-Zurich, Switzerland.
“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,” Lacroix said.
The Zurich team 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 neonatal faeces.
Strains found in breast milk may be 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,” Lacroix said.
Future research will hopefully complete the picture of how bacteria are transferred from mother to neonate.
With a more thorough knowledge, it can be decided which bacterial species will be most important as probiotics in formula, researchers said.
The study was published in Environmental Microbiology, a journal of the Society for Applied Microbiology (SFAM).