Breastfeeding may aid transition to solid food

Reuters Health Information: Breastfeeding may aid transition to solid food

Breastfeeding may aid transition to solid food

Last Updated: 2015-02-20

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 say.

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.

As reported February 5 online in the journal 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.

Study leader Amanda Thompson from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and colleagues collected 49 stool samples 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: 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 bacterial "reaction," the researchers estimated how many enzymes were active in the intestines before and after solid foods were started.

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 created more of a stir for 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 findings do support exclusive breastfeeding, which is recommended by most medical organizations.


Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology 2015.

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