Last updated on Jul 7th, 2020 at 03:36 pm

Here’s another amazing benefit of breastfeeding – it helps protect babies from antibiotic-resistant bacteria…

A University of Helsinki study investigated the amount and quality of bacteria resistant to antibiotics in breast milk and the gut of mother-infant pairs.

The three most important findings are:

  • Babies breastfed for at least six months had a smaller number of resistant bacteria in their gut than babies who were breastfed for a shorter period or not at all.
  • Antibiotic treatment of mothers during delivery increased the amount of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the infant gut. This effect was still noticeable six months after delivery and the treatment.
  • Breast milk also contains bacteria resistant to antibiotics, and the mother is likely to pass these bacteria on to the child through milk. Nevertheless, breastfeeding reduced the number of resistant bacteria in the infant gut, an indication of the benefits of breastfeeding for infants.

Breastfeeding lowers the risk of stroke for mothers

Subscribe to our Free Daily All4Women Newsletter to enter

Microbiologist Katariina Pärnänen of the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry investigated with her colleagues the breast milk and faecal matter of 16 mother-infant pairs.

The study demonstrated that breast milk indeed contains a significant number of genes that provide antibiotic resistance for bacteria, and that these genes, as well as their host bacteria, are most likely transmitted to infants in the milk.

Mothers transmit antibiotic-resistant bacteria residing in their own gut to their progeny in other ways as well, for example through direct contact. Yet, only some of the resistant bacteria found in infants originated in their mothers. The rest were likely from the environment and other individuals.

The study does, however, support the notion that breastfeeding overall is beneficial for infants. Apart from breast milk that contains bacteria resistant to antibiotics, sugars in the milk provide sustenance to beneficial infant gut bacteria, such as Bifidobacteria, which are used as probiotics.

Breast milk helps such useful bacteria gain ground from resistant pathogens, which is probably why infants who were nursed for at least six months have less antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their gut compared to infants who were nursed for a shorter period.

“As a general rule, it could be said that all breastfeeding is for the better,” says Pärnänen.

What about babies who are fed formula and breastmilk?

“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,” says Pärnänen.

“Another finding was that nursing should be continued for at least the first six 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.”

It could cause more deaths than cancer by 2050

Bacteria resistant to antibiotics are one of the greatest global threats to human health.

According to estimates by previous research, bacteria and other micro-organisms resistant to antibiotics and other drugs will, by 2050, cause more deaths than cancer, since infections can no longer be effectively treated.

Bacteria resistant to antibiotics are everywhere. They are present in the human gut, regardless of whether a person has taken antibiotics. They are transmitted between individuals in the same way as bacteria, viruses and other micro-organisms usually are: through, for example, direct contact and in food.

Because such bacteria cannot be killed with antibiotics, and because the immune system of infants is weak, infections caused by resistant bacteria can be fatal to infants.

Source: University of Helsinki via www.sciencedaily.com 

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.