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Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

 

The bacterial makeup of human milk is influenced by the mode of breastfeeding, according to a new study. Although previously considered sterile, breast milk is now known to contain a low abundance of bacteria. While the complexities of how maternal microbiota influence the infant microbiota are still unknown, this complex community of bacteria in breast milk may help to establish the infant gut microbiota. Disruptions in this process could alter the infant microbiota, causing predisposition to chronic diseases such as allergies, asthma, and obesity. While it’s unclear how the breast milk microbiome develops, there are two theories describing its origins. One theory speculates that it originates in the maternal mammary gland, while the other theory suggests that it is due to retrograde inoculation by the infant’s oral microbiome.

 

To address this gap in knowledge scientists carried out bacterial gene sequencing on milk samples from 393 healthy mothers three to four months after giving birth. They used this information to examine how the milk microbiota composition is affected by maternal factors, early life events, breastfeeding practices, and other milk components. Among the many factors analyzed, the mode of breastfeeding (with or without a pump) was the only consistent factor directly associated with the milk microbiota composition. Specifically, indirect breastfeeding was associated with a higher abundance of potential opportunistic pathogens, such as Stenotrophomonas and Pseudomonadaceae. By contrast, direct breastfeeding without a pump was associated with microbes typically found in the mouth, as well as higher overall bacterial richness and diversity. Taken together, the findings suggest that direct breastfeeding facilitates the acquisition of oral microbiota from infants, whereas indirect breastfeeding leads to enrichment with environmental (pump-associated) bacteria.

 

The researchers argued that this study supports the theory that the breast milk microbiome is due to retrograde inoculation. Their findings indicate that the act of pumping and contact with the infant oral microbiome influences the milk microbiome, though they noted more research is needed. In future studies, the researchers will further explore the composition and function of the milk microbiota. In addition to bacteria, they will profile fungi in the milk samples. They also plan to investigate how the milk microbiota influences both the gut microbiota of infants and infant development and health. Specifically, their projects will examine the association of milk microbiota with infant growth, asthma, and allergies. This work could have important implications for microbiota-based strategies for early-life prevention of chronic conditions.

 

References:

 

https://www.genomeweb.com/sequencing/human-breast-milk-microbiome-affected-mode-feeding#.XIOH0igzZPY

 

http://childstudy.ca/2019/02/13/breastmilk-microbiome-linked-to-method-of-feeding/

 

https://gizmodo.com/pumping-breast-milk-changes-its-microbiome-1832568169

 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190213124445.htm

 

https://www.cell.com/cell-host-microbe/fulltext/S1931-3128(19)30049-6

 

https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/news-and-research/baby-friendly-research/infant-health-research/epigenetics-microbiome-research/

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