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Breastfeeding does good things for your baby’s gut

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
How breastfeeding helps baby's immunity discovered.

Women who breastfeed are helping their baby’s immune system. A new study compared breastfeeding to bottle feeding and looked at how mom’s milk changes genes to produce beneficial microbes in the gut to fight infection and other diseases. Breastfeeding is known to boost immunity for infants, but until now researchers didn’t know the exact mechanism.

Mom’s milk promotes diverse immune boosting bacteria in the gut

The study, which was a collaborative effort of University of Illinois, Texas A&M University, Miami University, and University of Arkansas scientists, found that infants who were breast-fed had a more diverse colony of beneficial bacteria in the gut that helps with immune function.

The researchers compared the genes expressed in cells from the intestines of three-month-olds. One group was exclusively breast-fed and the other formula-fed. Then they looked at how the different diets related to the infant’s gut bacteria.

There was a difference in the gene expression of breast-fed babies.

"This study provides a first insight into the interactions between microbes and the developing infant and how these interactions are affected by diet.

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It also demonstrates the power of new experimental and analytical approaches that enable the simultaneous analysis of the microbiome and the host response," said Mihai Pop of the University of Maryland in a review of the study for the publishing journal.”

The analysis gives researchers a more information about how breastfeeding boosts immunity by showing them what the microbes in the gut are doing and what type they are.

Robert Chapkin of Texas A&M University said in a press release, "While we found that the microbiome of breast-fed infants is significantly enriched in genes associated with 'virulence,' including resistance to antibiotics and toxic compounds, we also found a correlation between bacterial pathogenicity and the expression of host genes associated with immune and defense mechanisms.”

Human milk does good things for baby’s gut. The scientists say they specifically found more gram negative bacteria that don’t always cause infection, but instead activate the immune system when infants are breast-fed, compared to formula-fed babies. U of I scientist Sharon Donovan said the finding defines “exactly why breast is best.”

Genome Biology
"We are what we eat: how the diet of infants affects their gut microbiome"
Scott Schwartz, Iddo Friedberg, et al.

Image credit: Morguefile