Breast milk is often described as the perfect food for babies. Now new bacteria identified in breast milk has been found to help infants digest mother’s milk or give their immune system a boost, because living bacteria are crucial for good health. The recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has discovered more than 700 species of bacteria in breast milk – more than previously thought.  It is through breastfeeding that babies make some of their first contact with the bacteria that will colonize their bodies.

Pediatricians say breastfeeding has health benefits for both infants and mothers. The boost to the immune system includes a lower risk of respiratory and ear infections, skin allergies and asthma. Breastfed babies are also better protected from SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), diabetes and obesity later in childhood. For women, breastfeeding can decrease risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

With the new study on bacteria in breast milk, Spanish researchers used large-scale DNA sequencing to map out the species of micro-organisms.  Scientists also determined the mother’s health could affect the make-up of breast milk:

Maternal Weight

There are fewer bacteria in the milk of overweight mothers or those who put on more than weight than recommended during pregnancy.

Mode of delivery

Women who have planned Cesarean sections, who do not go through labor, have fewer micro-organisms in their breast milk. Women who have unplanned C-sections have similar milk composition to women who deliver traditionally. Researchers suggest hormones during labor could influence breast milk composition.

If a mother is unable to or does not wish to breastfeed, the scientists say their study could help redesign infant formula to more closely match breast milk.

If you’re planning for a bundle of joy, the Birth Center at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center and the Women’s and Infant’s Center at Washington Adventist Hospital offer everything Mom wants and everything Baby needs to welcome your newest addition with sophisticated delivery and recovery suites in a home-like atmosphere. Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center has been commended by the state for leading the way in implementing breastfeeding support policies for new mothers, and both Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Centerand Washington Adventist Hospitals  have been awarded as breastfeeding-friendly workplaces in recognition of the health benefits of breastfeeding for our patients and staff, and their babies.

Hear the medical director of Shady Grove Adventist’s Pediatrics Department explain the significance of the study on WTOP.