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Breastfeeding Passes 'Good' Gut Bacteria from Mother to Baby

Update Date: Aug 21, 2013 06:59 PM EDT

Breastfeeding passes on 'good' bacteria from the mother to baby. A new study reveals that breast milk transfers good bacteria from the mother's gut to the baby's digestive system.

While the latest finding offers more evidence that "breast id best" when it comes to promoting infant health, researchers said a better understanding of how babies acquire a population of good bacteria can also help develop formula milk that more closely mimics nature.

"We are excited to find out that bacteria can actually travel from the mother's gut to her breast milk," lead researcher Professor Christophe Lacroix at the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health, ETH-Zurich, Switzerland, said in a news release.

"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," Lacroix added.

Researchers analyzed samples of breast milk and found several strains of bacteria, like Bifidobacterium breve and several types of Clostridium bacteria, that are important for colonic health.  These strains were also found in maternal and neonatal feces.

Researchers explain that bacterial strains found in breast milk may help set up a critical nutritional balance in the baby's gut and prevent intestinal disorders.

"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," Lacroix said.

Researchers said the next step is to complete the picture of how bacteria are passed on from mother to baby as well as determine which bacterial strains are most important as probiotics in formula.

The findings are published in the journal Environmental Microbiology.

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