In honor of World Breastfeeding Week (yes, yes, I know–it ended yesterday), we need to talk about a widely overlooked aspect of breastfeeding, its recipients!
Nope, I am not talking about our babies. (After all, who could overlook them?) I am talking about their gut bacteria.
Breast milk contains special carbohydrates (called HMOs for Human Milk Oligosaccharides) designed to nourish specific gut bacteria, especially a type known as Bifidobacteria. Bifidobacteria contain genes desiged to metabolize HMOs–implying they have co-evolved with us for a long time.
This process of seeding your baby’s gut begins not with breastfeeding, though, but before birth. During pregnancy, women’s bodies cultivate these bacteria while pruning out others, seemingly in preparation to pass them onto our babies during birth.
Why does this matter? Because some of breastfeedings health benefits may occur through this cultivation of gut bacteria. A healthy balance of gut bacteria in early infancy is believed to help calibrate baby’s immune system development and metabolism, possibly with lifelong effects.
I dig into the latest research on the breastfeeding-gut-health axis in my latest post for BloomLife. Check it out!