Infant microbiota: could the drawbacks of a C-section be reduced by breastfeeding?

Although C-sections affect the structure and composition of newborns’ gut microbiota, exclusive breastfeeding could partially restore it, according to a Chinese study published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.

 

C-section, infant formula and antibiotics are regularly associated with increased risks of obesity, allergy or even diabetes mellitus.  What do they have in common? They all seem to disrupt the bacterial colonization of the gastrointestinal tract that started at birth. But we still do not know the individual effects of each of these parameters, as well as its combined impact, on the structure and composition of the gut microbiota. To try and find an answer, researchers analyzed the bacterial flora of 120 six-week old babies, divided into groups based on the type of delivery, type of breastfeeding (exclusive or mixed feeding) and exposure to antibiotics since birth.

Low content of bifidobacteria

Compared to children born vaginally, the gut microbiota of newborns born through c-section had significantly less bifidobacteria (which promote good intestinal and immune health) and an increased content of two types of potentially harmful bacteria. The gut microbiota of breastfed children was, however, approximately the same as that of babies who alternated between breast milk and formula. But when combining these two variables, the researchers observed that only children born through C-section were impacted by the type of breastfeeding. What if the microbiota of these babies was altered by maternal milk? When testing this hypothesis, the researchers observed that the microbiota of babies born through C-section and exclusively breastfed was very close to that of babies born vaginally.  Exposure to antibiotics, however, had no impact on the gut flora. The authors believe this was probably because treatments were administered for a short period of time and at low doses.

C-section + maternal milk = healthy microbiota

This study provides new insights into a controversial issue, since only the mode of delivery seems to have an impact on the structure and composition of newborns’ gut microbiota. It also shows that in case of c-section, the flora can partly be restored by exclusive breastfeeding, thus unveiling new benefits of this practice which is strongly recommended by the World’s Health Organization.

 

Sources:

Liu Y, Qin S, Song Y et al. The Perturbation of Infant Gut Microbiota Caused by Cesarean Delivery Is Partially Restored by Exclusive Breastfeeding. Front. Microbiol. 10:598. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2019.00598