The infant's developing microbiome is one of the most important factors determining health and potential for illness in childhood and for a lifetime. The mother's microbiome plays an essential role in the development of the infant's microbiome and immune system via the placenta, vagina, skin, mouth, and breastfeeding. Some indigestible sugars in breastmilk - HMOs (human milk oligosaccharides) - are there to feed the baby's microbiome, and breastmilk has its own microbiome to share. Babies born by cesarean section who don't get exposed to their mother's vaginal microbiome experience a higher incidence of autoimmune diseases and other health problems, but it doesn't end there. Babies who are breastfed for shorter durations or not at all have microbiomes that essentially grow up too fast, missing important developmental opportunities.
"Our results underscore the role of breast-feeding in the shaping and succession of gut microbial communities during the first year of life," the authors write. "The gut microbiota of children no longer breast-fed was enriched in species belonging to Clostridia that are prevalent in adults, such as Roseburia, Clostrium, and Anaerostipes. In contrast, Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus still dominated the gut microbiota of breast-fed infants at 12 months."1
Did they say CLOSTRIDIA?! Clostridium Difficile (C Diff) in particular is a now-ubiquitous superbug that infects and kills increasing numbers of people every year, and is a risk any time someone takes antibiotics, has diminished immunity, is hospitalized, or has an endoscopic medical procedure. C Diff rates DOUBLED from 1996 to 2003 and caused a half a million infections in 2011, killing 29,000 of those people within 30 days. The incidence and mortality from C Diff is rising. Some people who harbor C Diff - about 5% of the population, it is now estimated - seem fine until exposed to antibiotics, however it's becoming easier to catch and harder to treat. 1/3 of blood pressure cuffs may carry it, and it has been found in neonatal units where it can kill babies. Because kids who weren't breastfeed are more likely to harbor Clostridia species instead of protective friendly flora, they are potentially at higher lifelong risk for C Diff. They're also more likely to catch ear, respiratory and gastrointestinal infections that may require the use of antibiotics, further increasing antibiotic resistance and superbug risks while diminishing the life saving potential of antibiotics when truly needed. This is not a good set up. Education and policies supporting practices that value and encourage vaginal birth and breastfeeding - unless truly medically impossible or unwise - would seem to be an urgent public health priority given the otherwise potentially perilous long term consequences to human health and the environment.