Breastfed babies have fewer antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their guts because 'sugars from a mother's milk feed good bacteria'
Originally published on Daily Mail Australia
Babies who are breastfed for six months have fewer antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their guts, according to a study.
Sugars in breast milk are thought to feed 'good bacteria', which prevent antibiotic-resistant bugs from becoming established in the gut.
The results of the Finnish study, revealed today, add to the catalogue of known breastfeeding benefits.
Experts have previously warned antibiotic resistance poses as big a risk as terrorism and even global warming.
In the largest study of its kind, the Helsinki University researchers analysed the genes of 16 mothers and their babies over eight months.
This involved sequencing the DNA of a total of 96 samples, including breast milk, and faeces from both the women and their infants.
Results showed babies who are breastfed for at least six months have less antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their guts than those who are breastfed for less time or not at all.
'The results suggest that early termination of breastfeeding might have negative health effects for infants,' the scientists wrote.
The team, led by Katariina Pärnäne, said this was 'due to an increased resistance potential of the gut microbiota against certain antibiotics'.
She added: 'We have already known that breastfeeding is all in all healthy and good for the baby.
'But we [have] now discovered that it also reduces the number of bacteria resistant to antibiotics.'
The World Health Organization recommends women exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of a baby's life.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, also found women can actually transfer their own resistant bacteria to their children via their breast milk.
But overall, breastfeeding still helps to reduce the amount of harmful bacteria in a baby's gut, the research found.
'As a general rule, it could be said that all breastfeeding is for the better,' Ms Pärnänen said.
'The positive effect of breastfeeding was identifiable also in infants who were given formula in addition to breast milk. '
As well as focusing on breastfeeding, the study also revealed babies whose mothers were given preventative antibiotics during childbirth are more likely to carry antibiotic-resistant genes.
These antibiotics may be given if a woman tests positive for a group B strep infection, which she may pass on to her child, or if her waters break early.
'We cannot advise that mothers should not be given antibiotics during delivery,' Ms Pärnänen said.
'The consequences of infection for both mother and infant are potentially serious.
'What we can state is our findings and physicians can use them to consider whether practices should be changed or not.'
Babies are particularly at risk of antibiotic resistance due to their immune systems being less developed than adults'.
Around 214,000 infants die every year around the world due to sepsis caused by antibiotic-resistant pathogens.
'Babies are more likely to suffer from this than adults, even if the babies have never been given antibiotics,' Ms Pärnänen added.
Among adults, resistant pathogens are expected to kill more people than cancer by 2050.
The Scottish microbiologist Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, the first antibiotic, in 1928.
Fleming's discovery allowed doctors to treat and cure infected patients, saving millions of lives.
Yet, less than a century after Fleming's discovery, there are precious few antibiotics left and many superbugs are already resistant to all of them.
Figures suggest up to 50,000 people die each year due to antibiotic-resistant infections in Europe and the US alone.
Globally, at least 700,000 people pass away annually due to antibiotic-resistance complications from illnesses such as malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis.