Industry claims that formula is as good as breastmilk; it’s not true for many reasons. The best probiotics for babies don’t come in a pill or in formula for infants.
As long as I’ve been doing blog posts (since 2000) I’ve gone on record as a strong supporter of probiotics and an avid detractor of antibiotics unless absolutely needed. If there is any topic that exemplifies the gap between clinical practice and medical research, it is the subject of probiotics.
The first published article on the topic of probiotics was in 1907, written by Nobel Prize winner Elie Metchnikoff and was entitled “The Prolongation of Life: Oportunistic Studies.”
1907. For those of you a little rusty on math, this is, as of today’s writing, 105 years later. And mainstream medicine has STILL not caught up. By these same standards of non-adaptation of the medical literature, bloodletting and sterilization would still be practiced at Mayo and the VA.
I remember the first time that I heard about probiotics showing up in the breastmilk. I thought that this had to be an error. Some contamination from the skin that made it into the sample. Just no way.
Think about it. The bacteria would have to be absorbed from the gut actively, transporting through the bloodstream without getting destroyed by the immune system and then actively pumped back into breastmilk. Just no way.
Turns out, my first impression was wrong. They DO show up in breastmilk. Not only that, but breast milk contains factors called prebiotics that support the growth of healthy bacteria in the newborn’s gut. Personally, I could envision no better sign the Mother Nature wanted us to have beneficial bacteria in our guts than this.
But wait! There’s more! It’s the proverbial Ginsu knife and free shipping!
This particular study shines even more light on the probiotics present in breastmilk.
Researchers went beyond the idea that probiotics are present in breastmilk (a concept that most pediatricians are probably not aware of) and looked to see if the type of overall makeup of the types of bacteria changed during different periods of nursing.
Turns out, they do. Here is what they found:
- The bacteria Weisella, Leuconostoc, Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Lactococcus were predominant in colostrum samples (the initial milk production for several days after delivery)
- In 1- and 6-mo milk samples Veillonella, Leptotrichia and Prevotella)levels were increased
- Milk from obese mothers tended to contain a different and less diverse bacterial community compared with milk from normal-weight mothers
- Milk samples from elective cesarean delivery contained a different bacterial community than did breastmilk samples from vaginal delivery
- Emergency C-section milk, however, was not different from vaginal birth
There are a few take home messages here.
- It is clear that these bacteria in the breastmilk are not an accident
- Stress is likely to somehow play a role (elective C-section led to alterations in the bacteria, but emergency C-section did not), although the exact answer has yet to be understood
- I can pretty much guarantee that antibiotics in the mom or the infant will absolutely disrupt what Nature is attempting to do
The bottom line is that nursing provides benefits that we don’t even yet (or will ever) understand. Formula will never replace breastmilk. Period. And this study suggests that, even up to 6 months, the mom’s body and breastmilk are adapting somehow to the needs of the baby.
Did your pediatrician or obstetrician recommend probiotics to you?