The Breastmilk Microbiome - what you need to know!

By Dr Jose Hurtado  8 November 2022 

Image courtesy of Dr Jose Hurtado

 What is the composition, origin and functional significance of the microbiota in human milk?

Human milk contains a host of bioactive compounds and nutrients which meet the nutritional needs of an infant.

Although once considered sterile, it was in 2003 when culture techniques allowed us to learn about a large community of bacteria present in human milk.

This community was found to aid the colonization of an infant’s own gut microbiota, protecting against infection and contributing to the maturation of the immune system.

Many factors can influence the composition of the microbiota in human milk, including dietary habits of the mother, genetics, geographic location, and use of antibiotics.

Findings have suggested that bacteria from the mother’s gastrointestinal system can travel to the mammary glands via the entero-mammary pathway.

This is a complex mechanism involving dendritic cells with the ability to transport bacteria from the gut lumen to many organs in the body, including the lymph nodes, liver, spleen,and, for a lactating mother, the mammary glands.

How does mild mastitis arise?

An inflammation of the breast tissue during lactation and may be triggered by mammary dysbiosis – a disruption in the natural balance of the mammary microbiota due to a proliferation of pathogenic bacteria.

Who is most at risk of breastmilk and mild mastits?

Women who are at heightened risk include those who have received antibiotics around the time of childbirth, women who wear tight fitting clothes or bras, women inexperienced with breastfeeding (first-time mothers), women with an oversupply of milk (second-time mothers), and those with a previous history of breastpain and mild mastitis.

Why probiotics?

Probiotics represent a logical intervention via their antibacterial and immuno-enhancing properties.

Dr Hurtado recommends its use in mothers with symptoms of breast fullness or breast pain ..  and in women who have received peripartum antibiotics – as these represent a heightened risk for developing mastitis.

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