Microbiome Superheroes: Breastfeeding and the Secret Powers of Mother's Milk

Mikrobiom-Superheldinnen: Stillen und die geheimen Kräfte der Muttermilch

Breastfeeding is a crucial aspect of early childhood nutrition, offering numerous benefits for both mother and child. Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for infants, as it contains all the essential nutrients for healthy growth and development (1). In addition to its nutritional benefits, breastfeeding also plays a key role in influencing the child's health, especially in terms of microbiome development.


Studies have shown that breastfeeding has a positive impact on the development of the child's microbiome and contributes to the establishment of a healthy microbial community in the gut (2). Breast milk contains various prebiotics and probiotics that contribute to the development of the infant's gut microbiome, including Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs), which act as prebiotics (3). HMOs promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, especially Bifidobacterium, and inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, thereby improving the infant's health (3).


It is also important to note that antibiotic therapies during pregnancy and breastfeeding can drastically reduce the number of beneficial bacteria in breast milk (4). Studies have shown that antibiotics decrease the number of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bacteria in breast milk, which can adversely affect the development of the child's gut microbiome. The use of antibiotics during pregnancy and breastfeeding should therefore always be carefully considered and only take place when medically necessary.


Breastfeeding not only offers health benefits for the child but also has a positive influence on the mother's health. It can reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer and also promotes postpartum weight loss (5). At the same time, breastfeeding also promotes the release of oxytocin, which fosters maternal bonding and reduces stress (6).


The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusively breastfeeding babies for the first six months of life to ensure all essential nutrients and optimal protection for the growing immune system. After these first six months, breastfeeding can continue in combination with suitable complementary foods. The WHO further recommends continuing breastfeeding until the second year of life or beyond, as long as mother and child wish (7).


If breastfeeding is not possible or desired, synbiotics can be a valuable aid. They support the child's gut microbiome and immune system by containing both probiotic bacteria and prebiotic substances that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria (6). When choosing a synbiotic, it should be ensured that it is specifically designed for infants and toddlers and contains various forms of HMOs. Different forms of HMOs are beneficial as they fulfill different functions in the baby's body. Some HMOs specifically promote the growth of certain health-promoting bacteria, such as Bifidobacterium, while others act as a protective barrier against harmful bacteria (8). By combining different HMOs in a synbiotic, it can be a helpful supplement if breastfeeding is not possible or desired.


Nevertheless, breast milk remains the natural and optimal source of nutrition for babies. It is naturally rich in beneficial bacteria, HMOs, and other essential nutrients that are crucial for the growth and development of the child. Therefore, it is important to promote awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding and support mothers in their decision to give their children a healthy start in life.



  1. BREASTFEEDING, S.O., et al., Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. Pediatrics, 2012. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827
  2. Yatsunenko, T., et al., Human gut microbiome viewed across age and geography. Nature, 2012. https://www.nature.com/articles/nature11053
  3. Bode, L., Human milk oligosaccharides: every baby needs a sugar mama. Glycobiology, 2012. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22513036/
  4. Arroyo, R., et al., Treatment of Infectious Mastitis during Lactation: Antibiotics versus Oral Administration of Lactobacilli Isolated from Breast Milk. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 2010. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20455694/
  5. The Historical, Psychosocial, and Cultural Context of Breastfeeding in the African American Community. Breastfeeding Medicine, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33449829/
  6. Ransjö-Arvidson, A.B., et al., Maternal analgesia during labor disturbs newborn behavior: effects on breastfeeding, temperature, and crying. Birth, 2001. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.1523-536x.2001.00005.x
  7. World Health Organization. (2021). Breastfeeding. https://www.who.int/health-topics/breastfeeding
  8. Donovan, S. M., & Comstock, S. S. (2016). Human Milk Oligosaccharides Influence Neonatal Mucosal and Systemic Immunity. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 69(Suppl. 2). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28103609/

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