The mother’s womb is a sterile environment that promotes the healthy growth and development of the foetus.
Vagina and Bacteria
It is not until the baby passes through the birth canal that it is exposed to a multitude of bacteria swimming about its mother’s vaginal secretions. Lactobacillus, the bacteria needed to digest breast milk, is picked up here. This means that C-section babies get their bacteria from the environment or the doctor’s hands, which is often less ideal and can lead to a slightly higher rate of asthma, allergies and delayed immune system development.
Breast Milk and Bacteria
Breast milk contains a multitude of bacteria that nourishes the infant, but also the bacteria in the infant’s gut. About 10% of bacteria in breast milk cannot be digested by humans.
A mother’s milk contains special oligosaccharides (sugars) that selectively feed the bacteria in the infant’s gut. It contains Immunoglobulin A (or SIgA), an antibody found solely in bodily secretions: saliva, tears, mucus and milk. In our first days of life, we are not yet capable of producing our own antibodies, thus breast milk is the only source.
Fascinatingly, breast milk contains “chemical decoys” that imitate places where disease-generating microbes invade. This means that the pathogens attach to milk molecules instead of the baby’s cells.
Think about it: If an offspring is not exposed to its mother’s antibody-rich milk, when it comes time for her to breastfeed, will she pass on different microbes?