Breastfeeding and the Microbiome
You may be surprised to learn that your body contains trillions of bacteria. In fact, our bodies contain more microbial cells than human cells. This community of bacteria and other microorganisms is called the microbiome.
The microbiome serves several functions that are important for the body, although research on the microbiome is a relatively recent development. So far, studies have shown that the ‘good’ bacteria in the microbiome help aid in digestion, regulate our immune system, and protect us from the ‘bad’ bacteria that cause illness. These bacteria also help produce vitamin B and vitamin K, which are important for blood coagulation and clotting. Further studies suggest that the bacteria in the microbiome may protect against obesity and can promote a healthier cholesterol level.
Although these mechanisms are still being studied, it is clear these little bugs are important for our health!
And interestingly for you and I, the first three years of life are considered a critical period in the development of the microbiome. There is increasing evidence that disregulation of the microbiome in early life can have long-lasting impacts on our health. Disrupted microbiomes have, for example, been linked to an increased risk of autoimmune disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease and a higher likelihood of developing diabetes and obesity.
One way of influencing the microbiome is through early feeding practices. Evidence shows that there are significant differences in the gut microbiota between breastfed infants and formula-fed infants. Formula-fed infants tend to have a more diverse microbiome, whilst the microbiome in breastfed infants, in contrast, mainly consists of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus.
Comprehensive studies have shown that breastfed children have fewer dental cavities and even higher intelligence levels than those who are not breastfed, or who are breastfed for a short time period. These differences persist later in life, and may be attributable to variations in the microbiota. We’re curious to see how this research continues and what it finds, as we look to gain a deeper understanding of our bodies and their relationship to our children.
The WHO recommends that women exclusively breastfeed infants for the first six months of life, and continue to breastfeed for the first two years while introducing complementary foods. For those who cannot or choose not to breastfeed, many infant formula companies have started to introduce a richer focus on microbiome support within their blends to recognise and reflect the importance of these healthy bacteria and microorganisms.
Here at Onoco, we support your decision on how to feed your baby and realize that breastfeeding may not be a viable option for everyone. That’s why our feeding, pumping and meal tracking tools are designed to be flexible and work with you on your journey - whatever that looks like.
If you have questions about breastfeeding and the microbiome or concerns around feeding in general, we recommend contacting your doctor or healthcare professional directly.