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A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that healthy mothers may have as many as 700 different and valuable bacteria in their breast milk. Normally people think of bacteria as a bad thing, but in the case of baby health, bacteria ingested via breast milk is vital for healthy development. This new study, among others, points out that bacteria present in breast milk is one of the first ways that a baby comes into contact with microorganisms that help develop a healthy digestive system. Spanish researchers working on this study were able to map out a breast milk bacterial map using DNA sequencing. While mapping out breast milk composition, the researchers noted that colostrum, the first secretion of the mammary glands after giving birth, contains more than 700 species of helpful microorganisms, which is significantly more than previously thought. Due to the researchers’ work, pre- and postnatal variables influencing the micriobial richness of milk can now be determined. This matters because it could affect how formula is made, and it should also impact how proactive health care providers are at promoting the importance of breastfeeding.

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This study is also significant for showing how a mother’s overall health and care during pregnancy affects breast milk composition. The researchers found fewer helpful bacteria in the breast milk of mothers who were overweight when they became pregnant or who gained too much weight during their pregnancy. Oddly, the type of labor a mother had also affected breast milk bacteria. Mothers who had a vaginal birth had breast milk with richer microorganisms than mothers who had a planned cesarean. Curiously, if a mother had an unplanned cesarean their breast milk composition was very similar to that of mothers who had a vaginal birth. What the researchers estimate is that the hormonal state of a mother at the time of labor plays a role in the microbial composition and diversity of breast milk. Authors of the study note that the implications of all these bacteria on child nutrition is huge stating that, “If the breast milk bacteria discovered in this study were important for the development of the immune system, its addition to infant formula could decrease the risk of allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases.

Or instead of waiting for these bacteria to be added to formula, you could give breastfeeding a fair shake. Breastfeeding can be tough, but most mothers can overcome common hurdles and successfully nurse their baby. See some of our best breastfeeding resources below.

+ The human milk microbiome changes over lactation and is shaped by maternal weight and mode of delivery

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