Breastfeeding is considered the gold standard for feeding a baby. Up until the middle of last century, there were few other options. Milk from cows, goats and sheep was substituted but the nutrient mix including amino acid ratios was not well-suited for a human infant.
Then manufacturers designed formulas which came pretty close. Soon the entire world—those who could afford it– rushed to feed their young with rubber-nippled bottles instead of the real thing. For those who couldn’t breastfeed because of illness or for mothers who worked away from baby, it was a godsend. For others, not so much. Breast milk is tasty, cheap and easy. Breast fed babies achieve better weights and are less prone to allergies and asthma. The list of benefits is long.
One highlight: breast-fed infants host different bacteria in their guts than that of formula-fed infants. The first field microbiota in which bifidobacteria and lactobacillus predominate whereas in the latter, coliforms, enterococci, and bacteroides predominate. Colostrum and milk also contain antibodies, growth factors and a rich stew of bioactive components.
Breast milk has been analyzed pretty thoroughly. Amino acids, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, vitamins, and a slew of other nutritional factors.
Surely, breast milk contains bacteria? Could these be good bacteria?
Good question and one recently posed by researchers in Human Milk: Mother Nature’s Prototypical Probiotic Food? published in Advances in Nutrition, an international review journal.
“Is human milk a probiotic?”
“Variation in the human-milk microbiome may be associated with maternal weight, mode of delivery, lactation state, gestation age, antibiotic use, and maternal health. Milk constituents (e.g., fatty acids and complex carbohydrates) might also be related to the abundance of specific bacterial taxa in milk. Whether these bacteria affect infant health is likely, but more studies are needed to test this hypothesis.”
Labelling human milk as a probiotic food may be a bit of a leap, especially considering the current regulatory climate. But identifying its probiotic properties and specific strains will be a springboard to better health.