Washington: A recent study has reinforced the crucial role of breastfeeding in providing good gut bacteria to babies during the early stages of their life.
The Newcastle University research has been published in the journal Nature.
The team found that a child has until the age of two-and-a-half to establish healthy gut bacteria – with little change after this point. It identified that the bacterium, Bifidobacterium, was abundant in breast milk and declined rapidly after breastfeeding stopped.
Bifidobacterium is regarded as beneficial and is one of the main bacteria used in probiotics, owing to its potential therapeutic properties.
It is hoped that this research will enable a greater understanding into what can be done to produce the same benefits of breastfeeding when breast milk is not available.
Dr Christopher Stewart, who co-led the research, said: “Breastfeeding has long been understood to be good for infants and epidemiological evidence shows being breastfed early in life is associated with lower risk of many later life diseases, such as allergy and obesity.”
“Targeting the nutrients in breast milk that encourage the growth of healthy bacteria in the infant gut, or providing probiotic containing Bifidobacterium, represent important avenues for future research aimed at restoring the beneficial properties of being breastfed when breast milk is not available.”
The research revealed that once infants were weaned there was a rapid turnover in the bacterial community and a loss of most of the Bifidobacterium, replaced by bacteria within the Firmicutes phyla. Firmicutes are typical of an adult microbiome and the appearance of these bacteria once breastfeeding was stopped occurred much quicker than experts expected.
Dr Stewart said: “Because a diet without breast milk delivers different nutrients to the gut, this rapid turnover in the bacterial community is likely to be in response to the new food sources promoting the growth of a different community.
“Remarkably, from this point on, the microbiome progressed quickly towards being stable, where the bacteria in the gut will potentially remain for the rest of that individual’s life.”