Scientists have discovered that important 'good' bacteria
arrive in babies' digestive systems from their mother's gut via breast milk.
Although this does confirm that when it comes to early
establishment of gut and immune health, 'breast is best', a greater
understanding of how babies acquire a population of good bacteria can also help
to develop formula milk that more closely mimics nature.
The study, published today (22 August) in Environmental
Microbiology, which is a journal of the Society for Applied Microbiology
(SfAM), was led by Professor Christophe Lacroix at the Institute for Food,
Nutrition and Health, ETH-Zurich, Switzerland.
Professor Lacroix said, "We are excited to find out that
bacteria can actually travel from the mother's gut to her breast milk.
"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 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/or 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.
Professor Lacroix continued, "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."
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.