The World Health Organization (WHO) strongly recommends breastfeeding a baby for the first two years of life. The benefits of breastfeeding are indisputable and have been proven in the scientific literature. For practical or physiological reasons, it is common practice for mothers to extract their milk using special equipment (Breast Pumps) and to allow their babies to consume it in a bottle. Scientists and doctors are now asking what the impact of this practice is on the microbiology of breast milk.
Human milk is a food made up of a collection of micro-organisms, the main purpose of which is to help a newborn baby develop its own microbiome. Inadequate breastfeeding or milk with an altered microbiota may affect infant health.
Cohort studies have identified a number of factors that contribute to the altered microbiota composition of human milk, including how milk is collected. Since then, experiments have been carried out to better understand this phenomenon, but most of these experiments have been carried out in hospitals and do not mimic the actual environment in which milk is collected and consumed. A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition corrects this.
The experiment carried out by a US team of researchers is the first randomized trial on this topic in an organic setting. Samples were collected in the homes of mothers using either a conventional device or a sterile device supplied by the hospital coordinating the study. Secondly, the study was randomized, which limits the influence of confounding factors. Third, the experiment is crossed-over, which increases the comparability of the two groups of mothers.
After sampling and sequencing, the results showed that pumping the milk changed its microbiota in both conditions, even though the bacterial strains present were different. This study needs to be replicated to make the results more reliable, but it appears that pumping does indeed significantly alter the microbiota of human milk. The health impact of this change needs to be assessed in future work. Until then it would be ideal if the mothers would limit the use of breast pumps and preferably breastfeed their babies.
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