Written by Laila Helena | Monday, 31 July 2023
Breastmilk is a baby's ideal source of nutrition and immunity but, most incredibly, it is their ultimate gut gardener. It truly is a marvel of nature – a perfect blend of nutrients, hormones, beneficial probiotics and prebiotics.
Imagine a baby's gut is like a freshly created garden, waiting to be seeded by microorganisms. The primary initial seeding occurs during vaginal birth, where the baby is exposed to the microbes of the birthing mother. This differs for babies born via c-section, aka belly birthed, as they bypass the mother's vaginal and gut microbes. However, the subsequent seeding occurs during skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding.
Breastmilk and the infant gut microbiome
Breastmilk has been found to contain between 100-600 species of microbes – those beneficial probiotics. This is more than in the adult gut! This highlights the important role that breastmilk has in seeding a baby's gut garden. In fact, breastfed, belly-birthed babies have been found to restore their microbiome diversity after a c-section – similar to a vaginally birthed baby. So, this can provide mothers with some reassurance after a c-section. The microbes in the breastmilk continue to seed a baby's gut garden throughout the entire breastfeeding journey.
The Magic of HMOs (Human Milk Oligosaccharides)
Breastmilk is not just an abundant source of probiotics (beneficial bacteria). It also has prebiotics, which helps to feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. The most abundant prebiotic in breast milk is Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs). HMOs are complex sugars; they are the third most abundant component in breastmilk, which is more than protein found, and guess what? Babies can't even digest them! Instead, they serve as food for beneficial gut bacteria, helping them thrive while keeping the harmful ones at bay. It's like breastmilk brings its own fertiliser to help feed the good bacteria while weeding out any pathogenic bacteria.
Breastmilk and long-term health outcomes
The benefits of breastmilk extend beyond infancy. A well-nourished gut microbiome in early life sets the stage for long-term health. Research shows breastfed babies have lower risks of allergies, obesity, gut issues and even mental health imbalances later in life. So, breastmilk is not just nourishing a baby but also planting the seeds for a healthier future.
Supporting breastfeeding mothers
As we marvel at the wonders of breastmilk, let's remember the superheroes behind this magical potion – breastfeeding mothers. Supporting them is crucial for the health of the baby and the mother. Encouraging a healthy diet, providing emotional support, and promoting a breastfeeding-friendly environment is essential. Women often cease breastfeeding due to physical difficulties such as discomfort and latching issues, worries about adequate milk production, and the need to return to work or school. However, nations like Norway, Sweden, and Sri Lanka, which offer extensive maternity leave, breastfeeding education programs, and easy access to lactation professionals, have successfully achieved higher breastfeeding rates. These supportive measures help to mitigate common breastfeeding challenges and equip mothers with the necessary resources and time to continue breastfeeding.
When breastfeeding isn’t possible
Breastfeeding may not be possible for some mothers. Some may choose not to breastfeed for personal reasons, which can be very difficult for them. Mothers who decide not to breastfeed or cannot breastfeed can experience guilt or shame. Supporting these mothers is just as important as supporting breastfeeding mothers. Formula-feeding mothers can be reassured that they aren’t doing anything wrong and that every mother is doing their best. Yet, babies who are not breastfed will often need some additional gut support. Formula speeds up the maturing of the gut microbiome, which can often lead to constipation and reduced microbial diversity. These babies often require a probiotic supplement and ongoing gut support when starting solids. Starting solids is the perfect time to naturally boost a formula-fed baby’s gut.
So, there you have it, folks! Breastmilk is not just a source of nutrition; it's a master gardener, meticulously cultivating a healthy gut in infants. It's a testament to the beauty of nature and the power of natural nutrition. As you embark on your journey in naturopathy and nutrition, let the marvel of breastmilk inspire you. Be sure to check out my follow up article where I explore how to supercharge breastmilk naturally.
Do you have any questions?
Make an appointment with a naturopath or nutritionist to find out how best to support your child's health and microbiome.
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Laila Helena BHSc is a qualified naturopath who specialises in helping busy couples ditch fatigue and nagging health issues to confidently optimise their fertility and pregnancy. Ultimately, making and raising healthier babies. She supports infants in their first 1000 days of life – from the moment they are conceived until they have reached two years of age. She is also passionate about fertility and preconception because infertility and chronic health conditions among children are steadily rising, most of which are preventable. Laila uses her holistic investigative skills to find the root cause of any disease and treats it with naturopathic medicine and functional nutrition. Supporting the health of parents, parents-to-be and infants. Her mission? To improve global health one baby at a time.