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Pumping breast milk could alter its bacteria, the study says



  • A new study with nearly 400 mother-child pairs examined bacteria in breast milk.
  • It was found that milk from mothers who pumped had a different bacterial balance than milk from mothers who had breastfed directly.
  • Milk from mothers who pumped showed lower levels of a type of bacteria that experts find beneficial, and higher levels of potentially harmful bacteria, the study said.
  • However, the study does not show that milk powder is bad, said co-author Dr. Meghan Azad opposite INSIDER. Instead, the results could lead to future research into better nutrition for all babies, she said.

Breastmilk from lactating mothers who pump could, according to a new study, have less good bacteria and higher potentially harmful bacteria.

The study, published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Cell Host and Microbe, examined 393 mother-child couples enrolled in the long-term cohort study for the development of a healthy Canadian infant child known as the CHILD study , The long-term project is a collaborative effort to study the effects of genetics and environmental factors on participants' health over time.

For this study, researchers analyzed maternal milk samples to find out which microbes contained them. Breast milk used to be sterile, but it contains bacteria, the authors wrote in the paper.

"The original question was, what does the milk bacteria profile really look like?" This was relatively little known, "said the co-author of the study. Meghan Azad, a researcher at the Children's Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba, told INSIDER. "We have seen that it is very variable ̵

1; milk from different mothers contained different types and combinations of bacteria, then our second question was, why the difference?"

Using information they gathered about the mothers, the researchers analyzed how various factors, such as the birth of their baby, the feeding methods, and the body mass index, could be related to the differences in the bacteria of their milk.

Different feeding methods were linked to a different mixture of bacteria in breast milk, according to the study

. "The most consistent factor after exploring many options was the method of feeding," said Azad. "Mothers who fed only on the chest, therefore, had a different mixture of bacteria in the milk than mothers who used a pump."

First, the researchers found that compared to milk from mothers who were breastfed directly, the pumped milk had lower levels of bifidobacteria, which is common in the infant intestine and "generally considered to be a good and helpful bacterium," said Azad.

Milk from mothers who pumped had a different bacterial mixture.
Monthira / Shutterstock

Second, milk from mothers who had pumped had a higher abundance of "potential opportunistic pathogens". "Azad said.

" These are microbes that may cause infections in certain contexts. However, this depends on other factors such as what other bacteria are present and whether the individual is immunocompromised, "Azad said." So it's not the case that if your milk contains these bacteria, your baby will necessarily get sick. It is not so easy. But it's an interesting finding that deserves further investigation. "

The study has not shown that pumped milk is bad

Azad added that the study" does not show that pumped milk is bad ". [19659007"Breastmilkisbeneficialformanyreasonsandforsomemotherspumpingmaybetheonlywaytheycandeliverbreastmilktotheirbabiesforavarietyofreasons"shetoldINSIDER"sowedonotwanttostoppumpingbutratheraskuswhatthatmeansandwhatfurtherresearchisneeded"

Instead, she added, the results raise the question of what the difference between bacteria means and what future research should be done to improve understanding.

19659011] Previous research has shown that babies fed with breast milk can have different health effects.

Azad and her research group have shown previously published studies showing that different infant feeding methods are associated with different health outcomes for babies.

A study published in 2017 investigated how infants were fed and whether or not they had asthma. Another, published in 2018, examined the feeding methods and how much weight the babies have gained over time.

"In these studies … we have seen that breast-fed babies have the healthiest body weight and the lowest risk of asthma compared to babies treated with only one formula," said Azad. "Breast-fed babies who received pumped breast milk were in-between – which meant they were at greater risk than babies who fed exclusively on the chest, but at a lower risk than infants fed the formula."

Read more : Breastfeeding is better for babies weight than pumped breast milk. According to a new study

Azad said there are many ways that could explain these differences. One idea is that pumping milk could change its composition – after pumping, certain bioactive elements in the milk could be broken down or the pump itself could introduce new elements, she added. For this new study, the researchers have only studied a specific aspect of breast milk composition: the bacterial profile.

The new findings may provide an indication of why their research group observed different health outcomes in babies fed differently, Azad explained.

The authors of the paper write for the time being that more research is needed to replicate these findings in new groups of participants and to investigate their effects on the health of babies.

Future research can help to improve the nutrition of all babies

Further research in this area could improve the diet of all babies, Azad said.
Marco Bello / [Pictures]

Azad said further research on this topic could lead to helpful recommendations for parents.

"Understanding the difference between pumped milk and breastfeeding allows us to empower all mothers, regardless of how they choose to feed their babies, which could make new recommendations on bottle feeding, breast pump cleaning or pumping be pumped milk or new supplements for babies who can not be breastfed, "she said. "These are all things that we will learn through the research."

She added that the news in this new study does not make parents feel miserable or guilty.

"We know that parents are already under stress," she said. "But I think the bigger picture is that this kind of research is important to improve the decision-making and nutrition for all babies in the future."


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