These studies explore the links between breastfeeding and gastrointestinal illness, gut health, and diarrhoea.
Association between breast milk bacterial communities and establishment and development of the infant gut microbiome
The establishment of the infant microbiome has lifelong implications on health and immunity, with gut microbiota of breastfed compared with non-breastfed individuals differ during infancy as well as into adulthood. Breastmilk contains a diverse population of bacteria, but little is known about the vertical transfer of bacteria from mother to infant by breastfeeding. In this 12-month longitudinal study of 107 healthy mother-infant pairs, researchers explored whether maternal breastmilk and areolar skin bacterial communities transferred to the infant gut. They found that breastfed infants received 27.7% of their gut bacteria from breast milk and 10.4% from areolar skin during the first month of life. They concluded that microbes in mother’s breastmilk seed the infant gut, including those associated with beneficial effects, underscoring the importance of breastfeeding in the maturation of the infant gut microbiome.
Pannaraj, P.S. et al (2017), Association Between Breast Milk Bacterial Communities and Establishment and Development of the Infant Gut Microbiome. JAMA Pediatrics, doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.0378
Impact of breastmilk on neonatal enteral feeding outcomes
This study found that exclusive breastfeeding had a positive impact on premature babies with gastrointestinal disorders. Babies who were exclusively breastfed had shorter parenteral nutrition courses, achieved earlier full enteral feeds and were discharged from hospital significantly sooner than those who received formula.
Breastfeeding reduces the risk of infectious diseases in infancy
This study of 4,164 infants in Holland found that exclusive breastfeeding for four months and partially thereafter reduced the risk of infections in the upper respiratory, lower respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts.
Breastfeeding protection against diarrhoea and lower respiratory tract infection
This study of 18,819 infants found that exclusive breastfeeding protects against hospitalisation for diarrhoea and lower respiratory tract infection. The effect of partial breastfeeding is weaker. The findings suggest that an estimated 53% of diarrhoea hospitalisations could have been prevented each month by exclusive breastfeeding and 31% by partial breastfeeding. Similarly, 27% of hospitalisations for lower respiratory tract infection could have been prevented each month by exclusive breastfeeding and 25% by partial breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding and Crohn’s/Ulcerative Colitis
This meta-analysis supports the hypothesis that breastfeeding is associated with lower risks of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. However, the authors call for further research as only a few studies were graded to be of high quality.