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Breastfeeding builds healthy digestive systems to prepare babies for solid food


(NaturalNews) In this day and age, the benefits of breastfeeding are widely understood. The female body is biologically designed to produce the perfect and most nutritious formula for an infant. Both the mother and the baby benefit from this natural, bond-forming behavior, which can result in lifelong advantages.

Breastfeeding allows for an overall healthier baby, offering long-term protection too. Infants that have been breastfed experience fewer problems with weight, have about a 50 percent lower risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDs) and have a lesser chance of getting some childhood cancers.

Breastfeeding has even been known to help boost IQs in babies as well as reduce their risk for developing asthma.

Why every mother, if able, should breastfeed her baby

A benefit less talked about, and perhaps one of the most important, is the connection between breastfeeding and the development of an infant's digestive system, including the composition and stability of the gut microbiome.

Remarkably, humans carry three times more microbial cells human ones. Trillions of microbes, tiny microorganisms including bacteria, archaea, fungi, protists and viruses, each with their own set of unique genetic material, occupy the human body and make up what is known as the "human microbiome."

Communities of beneficial microbes live on the skin, in nasal passages, lungs and the digestive and urogenital tracts. The diversity of these microbial communities is not random, but has perfectly evolved over millions of years to facilitate important life processes.

The diverse composition of microbes in the gut has an intimate relationship with human health and disease. Imbalances in gut flora have been linked to asthma, allergies, diabetes, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease and other health problems.

Breastfeeding and the development of the gut microbiome

New science suggests that breastfeeding your child during their first few months of life has a "profound influence on the composition, diversity, and stability of the gut microbiome," according to a recent study published in Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology.

Researchers from the UNC School of Medicine and UNC College of Arts and Sciences found that a baby's diet early in life highly influences their ability to process solid foods.

"We found that babies who are fed only breast milk have microbial communities that seem more ready for the introduction of solid foods," said Andrea Azcarate-Peril, PhD, assistant professor in the department of cell biology and physiology and the study's senior author.

"The transition to solids is much more dramatic for the microbiomes of babies that are not exclusively breastfed. We think the microbiomes of non-exclusively breastfed babies could contribute to more stomach aches and colic."

Breastfeeding supplies infants with probiotics and prebiotics, compounds that support the growth and establishment of beneficial microbes

In addition to good bacteria, breast milk also contains a number of complex carbohydrates and glycosylated proteins that cannot be digested by the infant.

However, they're readily consumed by bacteria of the Bifidobacterium genus, which is dominant in the infant microbiome and believed to play a role in coating the intestinal surface, preventing the attachment of pathogens, according to The American Academy of Microbiology.[PDF]

UNC's recent study builds on the idea that healthy gut flora not only help protect us from certain pathogens but also assist in food digestion, as well as highlights the importance of exposure to healthy microbes early on in life.

The microbiomes of exclusively breastfed babies tended to be less diverse and were dominated by the beneficial Bifidobacterium genus, the study found. Babies fed a mixture of breast milk and formula had a lower proportion of Bifidobacterium.

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