In addition to fostering the bond between mother and child, breastfeeding also promotes healthy guts in babies. The beneficial bacteria in breast milk that get transferred through feeding can lead to positive, long-lasting effects in babies, according to researchers from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). In the study, published in the May 8 edition of JAMA Pediatrics, the researchers discovered that breastfed infants received 27.7 percent of their gut bacteria from their mothers’ breast milk during their first month of life.
From January 2010 to February 2015, the researchers observed 107 mother-and-infant pairs for their study. Using source tracking analysis, they found that infants who had obtained most of their daily milk intake through breastfeeding had more balanced bacterial communities in their guts. While breast milk contained the most amount of helpful bacteria, the researchers stated that 10.4 percent of the bacteria came from areolar skin (including nipples). Although the origins of the bacteria in breast milk are still unknown, one hypothesis claimed that the bacteria most likely traveled from the mother’s intestines into the breast milk.
“From a very long time we have known about the benefits of breast milk. We found the poop of the infant had bacteria different from those who were formula fed. From animal studies, we know bacteria introduced at an early stage has long-lasting effects in those critical windows of time. There can be a much better outcome and profound differences,” lead author Dr. Grace Aldrovandi told the DailyMail.co.uk.
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As for the importance of gut health among babies, studies have shown that good gut bacteria may in fact play a role in strengthening a baby’s immune system. Researchers of a 2015 study in the journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy found that babies with fewer different strains of bacteria in their intestines were more likely to develop food allergies later in life. A similar study was conducted in the same year; a team of researchers determined that babies who lacked or had low levels of gut bacteria were more susceptible to acquiring asthma by their first birthdays. (Related: Protein found in breast milk may protect infants from deadly gastrointestinal disease)
“We’re appreciating more and more how these bacterial communities, particularly in the intestine, help guard against the bad guys,” Aldrovandi stated. “We know from animal model systems that if you get good bacteria in your gut early in life, you’re more likely to be healthy.”
Why breast milk is best for babies…and mommies
According to Aldrovandi, the benefits of breastfeeding and breast milk can’t be stressed enough. In a statement to the UCLA newsroom, Aldrovandi said: “Breast milk is this amazing liquid that, through millions of years of evolution, has evolved to make babies healthy, particularly their immune systems.”
In addition to the gut-boosting bacteria, breast milk contains other beneficial vitamins and minerals that help protect babies from illness. These include but aren’t limited to protein, essential fats, vitamins A, E, K, carbohydrates, and even antibodies. Breastfeeding also decreases the risks of gut infections, celiac disease, diabetes, childhood leukemia, and inflammatory bowel diseases in varying margins. Even mothers have a lot to gain from breastfeeding their babies: breastfeeding has also been linked to reduced chances of disease and postpartum depression.
The first few months of life are important to babies, so don’t switch over to formula feeding just yet. Experts recommend exclusively breastfeeding babies until they’re six months old, and to continue breastfeeding until the baby has reach 12 months or one year in age.
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