A recent study confirms some of the immunological benefits of breastfeeding that holistic practitioners and midwives have been championing for generations. These benefits are specific to the antibiotic-resistance bacterial flora present in the infants’ gut. The study also studied the effects of antibiotic use on breast milk and infant gut bacteria.
The study looked at the amount and quality of antibiotic resistant bacteria in breast milk and the gut of infant-mother pairs.
Three major findings became apparent
- breastfeeding seemed to protect infants’ antibiotic resistant bacteria. Infants breastfed for a minimum of 6 months had lower amounts of resistant bacteria than those breastfed for under 6 months or not at all.
- Treatment of mothers with antibiotics during delivery increased the number of antibiotic resistant bacteria in infant guts. This was still present 6 months after delivery.
- The breast milk of mothers treated with antibiotics also had higher amounts of antibiotic resistant bacteria. However, breastfeeding, even with the higher levels of resistant bacteria still reduced the amount of resistant bacteria in the infants’ gut.
Study shows that breastfeeding is generally beneficial for infants
The study shows that breastfeeding is generally beneficial for infants. Breast milk may contain bacteria resistant to antibiotics, but carbohydrates in the milk provide food to beneficial infant gut bacteria, like Bifidobacteria, which are used as probiotics. Breast milk helps useful bacteria gain ground from resistant pathogens, which is probably why infants who were nursed for at least 6 months showed less antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their gut compared to other infants.
“The positive effect of breastfeeding was identifiable also in infants who were given formula in addition to breast milk. Partial breastfeeding already seemed to reduce the quantity of bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Another finding was that nursing should be continued for at least the first 6 months of a child’s life or even longer. We have already known that breastfeeding is all in all healthy and good for the baby, but we now discovered that it also reduces the number of bacteria resistant to antibiotics.” said Microbiologist Katariina Pärnänen of the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry.
Antibiotic Use by Mother Impacts the Child
The study showed that antibiotic treatment of the mother impacts the number of bacteria resistant to antibiotics in the infant’s gut – it increases it. Women are prescribed antibiotics for all types of reasons during delivery, such as testing positive for Streptococcus, which is bacteria that could be hazardous to the infant. Intravenous antibiotics are also used if there is a concern of potential infection from a prolonged delivery after the water has broken.
Regardless of the reason for antibiotic use, all bacteria are killed except for those resistant to the antibiotic, making it easier for these bacteria to inoculate the infant’s gut once they are introduced through the breast milk.
Authors of the study adamant about not specifically recommending antibiotics not to be used
The authors of the study were adamant about not specifically recommending antibiotics not to be used, but that physicians should use this information to better decide whether or not they are absolutely necessary.
- Pärnänen K, Karkman A, Hultman J, et al. Maternal gut and breast milk microbiota affect infant gut antibiotic resistome and mobile genetic elements. Nat Commun. 2018;9(1):3891.
Razi Berry is the founder and publisher of the journal Naturopathic Doctor News & Review that has been in print since 2005 and the premier consumer-faced website of naturopathic medicine, NaturalPath. She is the host of The Natural Cancer Prevention Summit and The Heart Revolution-Heal, Empower and Follow Your Heart, and the popular 10 week Sugar Free Summer program. From a near death experience as a young girl that healed her failing heart, to later overcoming infertility and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia through naturopathic medicine, Razi has lived the mind/body healing paradigm. Her projects uniquely capture the tradition and philosophy of naturopathy: The healing power of nature, the vital life force in every living thing and the undeniable role that science and mind/body medicine have in creating health and overcoming dis-ease. Follow Razi on Facebook at Razi Berry and join us at Love is Medicine to explore the convergence of love and health.