By Andrew M. Seaman
(Reuters Health) – Breastfeeding may help prepare a baby's intestines to handle the introduction of solid food, a small new study suggests.
Compared to babies who receive formula, babies who are exclusively breastfed may have "gut bacteria" that help them tolerate new foods more easily, researchers found.
The study findings are very preliminary. The researchers only analyzed the bacteria of nine children, and not the children's reactions to new foods. So they can’t say if those who got formula had worse experiences with new solid foods. Still, the researchers say the results may explain some links between gut bacteria and health conditions.
Other studies have linked early feeding practice with long-term health outcomes, said Amanda Thompson, the study’s lead author from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Previous studies have linked gut bacteria to obesity, allergies, and infectious diseases, the researchers write in Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology.
The nine babies ranged in age from one week to almost one year. Four were exclusively breastfed for part of the study. Some also received formula. Overall, eight received breast milk.
The researchers collected 49 stool samples from the children over an average of 16 weeks, to analyze each infant’s gut bacteria.
They saw what others have reported before: Kids who are exclusively breastfed did not have as much bacteria diversity and richness in their guts as those who were also fed formula.
But they also found something new: The gut bacteria in the exclusively-breastfed children didn’t seem to react as much when solid foods were being introduced, compared to the bacteria in children who also received formula.
As a measure of whether bacteria were reacting, the researchers used a tool to predict how many enzymes were active in the intestines before and after solid foods were started. Enzymes help with digestion.
In children who were exclusively breastfed, they saw an increase in 24 enzymes after the introduction of solid foods, compared to an increase in over 200 enzymes among children who also received formula.
Thompson said the larger number of enzymes in children who were not exclusively breastfed suggests that the introduction of solid foods was a bigger shock to their gut bacteria.
“All we’re saying is we do see these changes,” Thompson said. “Perhaps this is a potential mechanism explaining what other people have found in the literature.”
“It seems that introduction of solid food for babies that were only breastfed was more tolerable,” said Andrea Azcarate-Peril, the study’s senior author and the director of the UNC Microbiome Core Facility.
“Long-term studies are essential to confirm or not confirm these results,” she said, adding that the study results do support exclusive breastfeeding, which is recommended by most medical organizations.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life. Then, mothers should continue breastfeeding for one year or longer as other foods are introduced.
Breastfeeding protects against a number of disease and conditions, including diarrhea, respiratory and urinary infections, diabetes and childhood weight problems, according to the AAP.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1CTlnmX Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, online February 5, 2015.