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Breast milk may offer babies a good natural remedy for protection from a deadly strep infection

Harold Mandel's picture
A baby breastfeeding

Imperial College London reports a type of sugar which is found in some women's breast milk may protect babies from a bacterium called Group B streptococcus which can cause a life threatening infection.


There has been a great deal of interest in the nutritional value of breast milk for babies. Aside from helping babies to grow well it seems that breast milk may also protect babies from a deadly strep infection.

A sugar in breast milk of some women may protect babies from Group B streptococcus

Imperial College London reports that babies may be protected from a deadly infection by breast milk. The breast milk of some women has a type of sugar which may offer protection to babies from a bacterium known as Group B streptococcus which can cause life threatening infections.

In newborns Group B streptococcus is a common cause of meningitis. This bacteria is also the leading cause of infection in babies during their first three months of life worldwide. Research published in the journal Clinical and Translational Immunology has suggested that a sugar which is present in the breast milk of some women protects babies against this bacteria.

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Group B streptococcus may be transferred to newborn babies

About 33 percent of women carry Group B streptococcus naturally in their vagina and bowels. This bacteria can be transferred to the newborn baby during childbirth or it can be transferred in breast milk. It has been observed that in infants whose mothers produced a specific sugar in their breast milk which is called lacto-n-difucohexaose there was a greater likelihood that by 60-89 days after birth the bacteria was more likely to be cleared from the woman's body. Lacto-n-difucohexaose is a type of human milk oligosaccharide.

It has been shown in the laboratory that breast milk which contains the particular sugar lacto-n-difucohexaose was better at actually killing the Group B streptococcus bacteria in comparison to breast milk which lacks specific sugar. It is believed that about 50 percent of the women in the world produce the sugar lacto-N-difucohexaose.

Human milk oligosaccharides may boost the friendly gut bacteria in kids

Dr Nicholas Andreas, who is the lead author of the research from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, says research has shown human milk oligosaccharides may serve as protection against infections seen in the newborn, such as rotavirus infections and Group B streptococcus infections. Human milk oligosaccharides may also boost the friendly gut bacteria in children.

The finding that human milk oligosaccharides may protect babies from Group B Streptococcus infection is compelling due to the potentially very serious nature of the infections. In fact Group B Streptococcus infection is a major cause of morbidity and mortality which is seen in infants. It seems that breast milk really may offer a good natural remedy for protection from a deadly infection with Group B Streptococcus.