Monday, May 13, 2013


No wonder that the world recognizes the unmatched advantages associated with breast feeding and the benefits the new borne baby derives by feeding on its mother's milk. It is known for some time that human body is colonized by trillions of microorganisms, most of which are beneficial and protect them from a number of diseases and health ailments. In the latest revelation about human milk, scientists have brought out the fact that it contains hundreds of species of microbes, hitherto not identified, with different characteristics. Before these findings, doctors always recommended breast feeding and the scientific basis was that one of the bacteria called Bifidus has the ability to protect the tender digestive tract from many types of infection, some of them with fatality potential if not properly treated. 

Colostrum which is the first flush of milk produced by the mother immediately after giving birth to the baby is found to be a veritable source of bacteria, more than 700 in number, some of them very unique and the role of which is still not well understood. A highly digestible fluid, Colostrum contains all the nutrients required for the development of the baby before regular milk is produced. Analysis of colostrum samples revealed that the most common types of bacteria present in it were Streptococcus, Lactococcus, Leuconostoc, Weissella and Staphylococcus. Samples of breast milk produced between the first and sixth month of pregnancy were also analyzed and the most common bacteria identified include Prevotella, Leptotrichia and Veillonella. It is not clear as to the source from where these bugs get into the baby's digestive system and this is a subject that calls for further studies.

One of the theories suggests that the above diverse type of bacteria colonize the mouth of the baby and later enter the breast milk bringing about changes in its composition. Interestingly the breast milk from mothers who were either overweight or obese was found to have less bacteria than breast milk from mothers who had a healthy body weight. A logical question that arises in this context is whether there is any difference in the microbial genome of milk coming from mothers who had C-section from those delivering normally through the vaginal route. According to the latest studies there were significant differences with normally delivered babies getting milk significantly richer and diverse in its microbial content qualitatively and quantitatively. Though there is no ready explanation for this vital difference, one of the possible reasons could be the influence of hormones produced during birth. It is surmised that lack of signals of physiological stress, as well as hormonal signals specific to labor, might be responsible for the difference in the microbial composition and diversity of breast milk characteristics from these two types of mothers. 

Ingestion of breast milk probably is the first time a baby comes in contact with microorganisms which will eventually end up in it's digestive system. There are interesting questions thrown up by these new studies on an area uncharted so far which include whether some of the bacteria identified newly play any crucial role in the development of immunity to the baby and strengthen the same for making it a stronger and healthier kid during its early life. Also begging for an answer is whether different allergies which are common to day including asthma can be preempted with the help of these friendly bacteria during the adulthood. To get an answer to the nagging uncertainty regarding the precise role of microbes present at different stages in mother's milk a global effort is necessary and then only one can conclude whether they are involved more in immunity development or it is confined to some metabolic functions. 

Millions of tons of man created baby foods based on processing of animal milk are promoted by large industry conglomerates as effective substitute for breast milk without realizing the critical role played by microbes which are present only in the latter. Of course the statutory "advice" declaring "breast milk is the best milk" is routinely printed on the baby food packs while aggressive promotional strategy still attracts millions of unwary mothers to industrial baby food products flooding the market. If the world cannot stop manufacture and marketing of commercially made baby food products for feeding normal babies, at least the industry should be made to incorporate some of the most beneficial bacteria which are present in colostrum. Freeze dried bacteria can be blended with the main product before packing and such products will be much more healthy than just the milk powder fortified with some micro nutrients considered necessary for babies currently available to day.


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