Bacteria passed from breast milk and even a woman's nipple is key to a child's gut health, according to a new study.
A UCLA-led study found that nearly one-third of beneficial bacteria is transferred directly from a mum's breast. Simply put, this transferred bacteria is essential for your baby's digestive tract.
The system of various bacteria that live in your gut - or the microbiome - helps the digestion of food as well as lowering the risk of developing asthma and allergies.
"Breast milk is this amazing liquid that, through millions of years of evolution, has evolved to make babies healthy, particularly their immune systems,” said Dr Grace Aldrovandi, the study’s senior author and chief of infectious diseases at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital. “Our research identifies a new mechanism that contributes to building stronger, healthier babies.”
Research has also shown that breastfed babies are less likely to catch viruses, as breast milk contains antibodies that fight infections in the body's cells.
"Just as mothers will teach their children right from wrong, these bacteria that are coming from the mum's milk teach the baby's immune system," said Dr Aldrovandi. "We know that the bacteria transferred from the breast to the baby helps fight immune disorders such as asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and obesity."
The study looked at 107 US mother-infant pairs, making it the largest study to date that shows the transfer of milk bacteria to babies.
Researchers collected samples of breast milk and infant stool, and swabs from the skin around the nipple throughout the baby's first year. They analysed the samples to assess which bacteria were shared between mothers and infants, and measured how much bacteria was present. The project didn't find how babies who are solely formula-fed acquire their healthy microbiomes.
Dr Aldrovandi recommended: "We would encourage mums to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life and continue breastfeeding through the first year."
However, several mothers are opting out of breastfeeding after two months and turning to formula milk. This can lead to a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is highly beneficial to the growth of your child's bones and can prevent cardiovascular disease later in life.