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article imageBreastfeeding prepares a baby for solid food

By Tim Sandle     Feb 9, 2015 in Health
New research has discovered that a baby’s diet during the first few months of life influences the microbes in the baby’s gut. In turn, this influences baby’s ability to move from milk to solid foods and it could also affect health in later life.
The two key issues from the research are that the composition of the microorganisms in the intestines of a new baby (the microbiome) affects how easily the baby moves from consuming milk to eating solid foods and that the composition of microbes has an influence on the health of the baby as it moves into childhood and adulthood.
The optimal composition of microbes seems to stem from breast milk as opposed to formula milk. The researchers found that the transition to solids is more significant for the microbes in babies that are not breastfed. Here there was a correlation with health effects like stomach aches and colic.
The report adds weight to research that suggests the gut microbiome influences health and how we respond to disease. Breast milk contains a range of sugar molecules called human milk oligosaccharides. Other studies suggest that the role of these sugars is not to feed infants. Instead, the sugars play the role of "microbial managers," acting as liaisons between the infant’s newly available intestinal gut space and a range of microorganisms.
To derive at these conclusions, researchers examined stool samples and collated information about the diets and health of nine babies as they grew from ages two weeks to 14 months. The bacteria in the stool samples were examined using genetic techniques. The review of the data showed, during the first few months of life, clear differences between the microbiomes of babies that were exclusively breastfed compared with those who consumed formula milk.
As the babies moved onto solid food, the stool samples were analysed again. The researchers continued to notice differences. Notably, babies who were breast fed had higher populations of Bifidobacterium, a type of bacteria considered beneficial for digestion. This bacterium is also used a probiotic in a number of health foods.
The findings have been published in the journal Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology. The research is titled “Milk- and solid-feeding practices and daycare attendance are associated with differences in bacterial diversity, predominant communities, and metabolic and immune function of the infant gut microbiome.”
In related research, Digital Journal has previously reported on the benefits of breast milk. In one study breast-fed macaques were shown to have more immune cells of the type that can best fight pathogens.
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