Study unlocks links between maternal diet and composition, diversity of breast milk microbiota

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© szeyuen / Getty Images
© szeyuen / Getty Images

Related tags Breast milk breast feeding microbiota microbiome Infant

A mother’s diet influences the composition and diversity of her breast milk, with knock-on effects to the developing infant's gut microbiota, says a new study from Spain.

Data published in the Journal of Nutrition​ indicates that intake of macronutrients and specific dietary nutrients like fiber and polyphenols can influence the microbial communities in breast milk.

Specifically, a link between soluble and insoluble fiber and plant protein and microbiota with higher Staphylococcus, Bifidobacterium​, and Lactobacillus​ abundance was found.

Additionally, intakes of the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) were linked with the Streptococcus​ genus.

The study could create opportunities for modulation of the breast milk microbiome with targeted formulations containing the key dietary components, such as fiber and polyphenols.

“The relation between the maternal diet and the milk microbiota needs further research because it has a key impact on infant microbiota development and contributes to infant health outcomes in the short and long term,”​ wrote scientists from the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology (IATA-CSIC), National Research Council in Valencia.

Breast milk: “An optimal source of nutrients and beyond”

Interest in the wide array of bioactive compounds in breast milk has intensified over the past decade, with academic and industry researchers exploring the potential health benefits of, for example, human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) on the developing infant.

Breast milk also contains its own microbiota, including genera such as Staphylococcus​ and Streptococcus​ spp. followed by Veillonella, Propionibacterium​, lactic acid bacteria, and Bifidobacterium​ spp.

Despite the increasing interest, there is currently only limited data on how the maternal diet may impact the microbiota of breast milk, explained the researchers, and so they sought to elucidate any links between maternal diet and specific nutrients during pregnancy and the breast milk microbiota.

Study details

The researchers analyzed 120 samples from healthy mothers and used food frequency questionnaires (FFQs) to correlate dietary information with the breast milk microbiomes.

The results showed that maternal diet could be grouped into two clusters: Cluster I was characterized by high intake of plant protein, fiber, and carbohydrates, while Cluster II was characterized by high intake of animal protein and lipids.

“Our findings clearly suggest that the Bifidobacterium genus is associated with a high intake of polyphenols and that the Staphylococcus genus is related to carbohydrates,” ​they wrote. “Although the relation between polyphenols and breast milk microbiota is poorly understood, several studies have suggested that dietary polyphenols have prebiotic properties and antimicrobial activities as well as modulating the composition and functionality of the gut microbiota.”

The researchers also discovered associations between breast milk microbiota and the mode of delivery of the baby (vaginal vs C-section) and exposure to antibiotics.

Indeed, women with Cluster II/C-section/antibiotic exposure had lower abundances of Lactobacillus, Bacteroides​, and Sediminibacterium​ genera, they said.

“This finding suggests a complex interaction between different maternal and perinatal factors that affects breast milk microbiota,” ​they wrote. “Thus, further analysis is warranted to clarify the relations in this network and design interventions that can modify such relations in case one of the factors is affected.”

Source: The Journal of Nutrition
Volume 151, Issue 2, Pages 330–340, doi: 10.1093/jn/nxaa310
“Maternal Diet Shapes the Breast Milk Microbiota Composition and Diversity: Impact of Mode of Delivery and Antibiotic Exposure”
Authors: E. Cortes-Macias, et al.

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