Breastfeeding for your Baby’s Healthy Gut

We often share the amazing benefits of breastfeeding on our blog.  For your baby, breast milk is the number one superfood on the planet and is designed to meet her exact nutritional requirements.

New research published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology shows that breastfeeding is especially healthy for your baby’s gut.  In discovering how babies use breast milk to improve gut bacteria, researchers have also uncovered how they may be able to replicate it with cow’s milk.

Every human being has trillions of microbes that live in the digestive tract.  According to the latest studies, this healthy bacteria influences much about our biological health including our immune system, metabolism, nutritional absorption and physiology.  The community of microbes in the digestive system is referred to as the gut microbiome and there’s a lot riding on this tiny population.

Breastfeeding for your Baby’s Healthy Gut

Babies have a non-existent gut microbiome until the moment they are born.  Bacteria passed from mother to baby during vaginal delivery is the first opportunity for babies to build this important network.  That’s why recent research acknowledges the benefits of exposing babies born via C-section to vaginal bacteria from their mothers.  The birthing process is a vital first step in protecting babies and beginning to establish their gut microbiome.

Beyond birth, the leading source of nourishing a baby’s gut microbiome is through breastfeeding.  Breast milk contains glycoproteins that introduce bacteria from the mother and her diet into the baby’s digestive system.  Glycoproteins are made up of protein and sugars known as oliosaccharides.  Specific bacterium are produced that help infants and young children develop enzymes that strengthen their bodies.  One crucial enzyme called EndoBI-1 was determined to come from the oliosaccaride sugars found in glycoproteins.

Identifying the source of EndoBI-1 from breast milk compounds is breakthrough on several levels.  First, it better informs medical professionals about how breastfeeding improves a baby’s overall health, starting with the gut microbiome.  And it proves that breast milk has evolved with the human species.  Pretty phenomenal!  But it also has greater implications for babies who cannot or are not breastfed.

Researchers now believe that non-breastfed babies can benefit from these findings as well.  If formula products incorporate oliosaccharides, they can break down cow’s milk in a similar way to a human mother’s milk.  This would give formula-fed babies some of the same advantages as breastfed babies when it comes to a healthy gut.

This latest study was conducted by a team led by Professor David A. Mills, PhD, the Shields Endowed Chair in Dairy Food Science.