Over the years I have searched the medical literature on our bacterial friends and how they and we have become intertwined over eons of time. It has been very reassuring to know that we have depended so much on them for so many of our own health needs. During my medical training it was always a given that breast milk was the purest and best possible food for the new-born infant. It had to be and had to be sterile! It just made sense and, furthermore, these babies as a group just became healthier than did those kids raised on formulas. We knew that the very best bacteria for the infant resided in the mother’s vagina and the perineum, the area between the vagina and rectum. It was shown that as a baby was born and slid through the vaginal canal, that it picked up mother’s bacteria on the its own lips. These were the very first bacteria to get into the baby and its intestinal track. It was and is a wonderful story of how one generation passes on its own health benefits, its good bacteria, to another.
But along came prebiotics. These are not probiotics which are bacteria found in yogurt and capsules you buy at a health store. Prebiotics are fiber found exclusively in plant material and are the fiber that feeds the best bacteria in the intestinal tract. These all come from plant food, except in mother’s milk. Yes, the breast makes these prebiotics, unlike any other living tissue anywhere. It does so simply to provide the very best nourishment for the bacteria that are entering the baby’s intestines at the time of birth. End of story. Baby picks up bacteria from the mom’s vaginal canal and then gets prebiotics nourishment for the bacteria from breast milk.
But nature has ways of surprising us and doing what it wants to do and not what makes sense for us. New, awesome research techniques are now able to identify many newly discovered types of bacteria. We did not know they even existed, but now we do. Researchers then did extremely careful studies of breast milk in new mothers and much to everyone’s surprise, they found bacteria in the milk. And not just a few. There are up to 700 different types of bacteria normally present in the new mother’s own breast milk. That is simply an awesome idea.
So what we have is the perfect formula to get the great health organ, the human colon, up and running to its maximum efficiency very quickly. It is the immune system that needs activating first and these new bacteria are the genius that gets it started. The baby picks up bacteria not only from the mom’s vaginal canal but also from the very breast milk it will quickly receive. In addition to these bacterial gifts to the baby, the breast milk makes the very nourishment that only these vital bacteria need to grow and multiply. If you were an inventor, you would simply smile at how clever the whole system is and how well it works.