We know that breast milk is brimming with of all kinds of nourishing, life-sustaining compounds, like antibodies, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, hormones, beneficial bacteria, and fats. We also know that a healthy prenatal and postnatal diet affects the quality and quantity of breast milk.
But, it’s not always clear how the foods and supplements that we consume relate to our breastfeeding baby’s overall health.
Fortunately, exciting new research shows that taking multi-strain probiotics while breastfeeding and during pregnancy can directly (and positively) support your child’s immune system and digestive function. In a recent study, 33 women who took a daily probiotic supplement from the 36th week of pregnancy through four weeks postpartum saw significant results.
Not only was there an increase in the breastfeeding women’s milk levels of cytokines, molecules that help facilitate immune responses, but their babies’ fecal samples also had higher levels of sIgA, an antibody that protects against invader bacteria. This remarkable immune system benefit is due to the friendly flora's ability to stimulate production of important antibodies.
What’s more, the babies in the probiotic group experienced less abdominal pain and fewer issues with regurgitation—common (and often distressing) digestive problems in the first several months of life that can leave the whole family feeling exhausted and drained.1
It’s clear that the state of a mom’s microbiome affects her baby’s health, but the question is, how do beneficial microbes get from her digestive tract all the way to her baby’s gut?
Probiotics and Breastfeeding: The Enteromammary Pathway
A woman’s body changes and molds in amazing ways to nurture and sustain her growing baby within, but scientists are discovering yet another adaptation during late pregnancy and lactation that helps to set up her baby’s infant microbiome, the ultimate foundation of health.
You see, your gut microbiome—the diverse ecosystem of bacteria living in your gut—sits right in your digestive tract, also home to 80% of your immune system. Your beneficial gut bacteria work hard to support your immune function by helping to protect your gut barrier from inhospitable microbes and producing and regulating enzymes, antibodies, and short-chain fatty acids that your immune cells utilize to keep you healthy.
The problem is that babies are born with immature immune systems. By the time they make their way into this world, they have only been exposed to bacteria in the placenta and vaginal bacteria as they travel through the birth canal (even less if they are delivered via Cesarean section). These first inoculations start to seed their gut with the beginnings of a microbiome, but breastfeeding delivers a consistent source of friendly flora to further build and program the immune system.
So, just how does your beneficial gut bacteria benefit your baby? This is where it gets interesting! Recent studies suggest that maternal immune cells can transport good guy bacteria from a mother’s gut to her mammary glands via a highway of sorts called the enteromammary pathway.2,3 In fact, this is precisely how specific strains of probiotics can end up in breast milk, even though they are taken orally.4
It’s evident that beneficial microbes are crucial components of healthy breast milk, but how does this important research translate to real world advice for moms?
Take Maternal Probiotics to Support Baby’s Immune Health
Now that you know friendly flora can translocate from mom to baby, and that a thriving infant microbiome is imperative for optimal immune system development and long-term health, you can take steps to support your own microbiome so you can pass on all that beneficial bacteria to your little one.
• As soon as possible, while trying to conceive or during pregnancy, start taking a high-quality women’s probiotic supplement like PRO-Moms, designed specifically for pregnant and lactating women. PRO-Moms is a multi-strain formula that delivers billions of live organisms deep into your gut, where they can get to work supporting your health and preparing for the miraculous journey to your mammary glands.
• Support your own microbiome with a diet rich in whole foods and plant-based prebiotics that feed your beneficial bacteria. Include a daily organic prebiotic powder supplement that supplies an ideal mix of prebiotic fibers, and indulge in yummy prebiotic sources like oats, honey, asparagus, bananas, and Jerusalem artichoke.
• Live a gut healthy life that minimizes exposure to things that can deplete your friendly flora, like antibiotics (both as medicine and in food), antibacterial cleaners, sugar-laden foods, pesticides, and overzealous hygiene habits.
• Once your baby is born, continue on your probiotic regimen and aim to breastfeed exclusively for six months to support their microbiome with both the microbes and antibodies it needs to maintain a lifetime of good health.
• Consider breastfeeding after you introduce solids until your baby decides to stop. The World Health Organization recommends two years minimum, and for good reason.
Thanks to the enteromammary pathway, caring for and nurturing your own microbiome by taking probiotics during breastfeeding and pregnancy is truly a win-win scenario for both you and your baby. Not only will you be supporting your own health and vitality, but your baby will have the microbial building blocks they need for a lifetime of optimal immune function.
1. Baldassarre, M., Mauro, A. D., Mastromarino, P., Fanelli, M., Martinelli, D., Urbano, F., . . . Laforgia, N. (2016). Administration of a Multi-Strain Probiotic Product to Women in the Perinatal Period Differentially Affects the Breast Milk Cytokine Profile and May Have Beneficial Effects on Neonatal Gastrointestinal Functional Symptoms. A Randomized Clinical Trial. Nutrients,8(12), 677. doi:10.3390/nu8110677
2. Rodriguez, J. M. (2014). The Origin of Human Milk Bacteria: Is There a Bacterial Entero-Mammary Pathway during Late Pregnancy and Lactation? Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal,5(6), 779-784. doi:10.3945/an.114.007229
3. Jost, T., Lacroix, C., Braegger, C. P., Rochat, F., & Chassard, C. (2013). Vertical mother-neonate transfer of maternal gut bacteria via breastfeeding. Environmental Microbiology,16(9), 2891-2904. doi:10.1111/1462-2920.12238
4. Jimenez, E., Fernandez, L., Maldonado, A., Martin, R., Olivares, M., Xaus, J., & Rodriguez, J. M. (2008). Oral Administration of Lactobacillus Strains Isolated from Breast Milk as an Alternative for the Treatment of Infectious Mastitis during Lactation. Applied and Environmental Microbiology,74(15), 4650-4655. doi:10.1128/aem.02599-07
Emily Courtney is a Writer and Editor at Hyperbiotics and mom to two fun and active boys. Emily is passionate about natural wellness and helping others learn about the power of probiotics for vibrant health! For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.