Breastfeeding has bacterial benefits for children

WASHINGTON — One of the first decisions a new mom has to make is what to feed her infant. It’s long been thought that breastfeeding is a healthier choice for the baby, and now we are finding out one big reason why.

Researchers at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit say that when a mother breastfeeds, she passes along the good bacteria in her gut to her newborn.

“Breastfeeding has a great impact — probably the strongest impact on the ecology of bacteria in a baby’s GI tract,” says Christine Cole Johnson, who led the research team.

She explains that a baby is, in essence, born in a sterile state and breastfeeding jumpstarts the microbiome — the accumulation of microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract.

“Our studies are showing that the microbiome that is within a baby’s gastrointestinal tract is very important in disease development,” Johnson explains.

What happens is all that bacteria give a big and early boost to the immune system.  The researchers say they found the microbiome actually helps reduce susceptibility to allergies and asthma. They say babies who were breastfed were at a decreased risk of developing pet allergies, or asthmatic flare-ups in the first year of life.

Johnson, who is chair of the hospital’s Department of Public Health Sciences, says this research offers more proof that exposure to certain microbes is a healthy thing for babies.

“The tendency to be super clean and try to get rid of all the germs in the house when you have a baby around is probably not that great of an idea,” she suggests.

This research was part of an ongoing effort to explore the environmental factors that can lead to allergies and asthma.  The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

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