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Experts say breastfeeding is usually the healthiest option for infants. Kristen Curette & Daemaine Hines/Stocksy
  • Researchers say infants born via cesarean section receive only slightly fewer essential microbes from mothers.
  • They add that this difference can be bridged by breastfeeding.
  • Experts say that in most cases breastfeeding is the healthiest option for babies.

Essential microbes transferred from mother to infant are only slightly lower for babies born via cesarean section and that gap can be bridged with breastfeeding.

That’s according to new research published today in the journal Cell Host & Microbe.

The study included data from 120 Dutch mothers and infants in the womb.

The research was supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research and the Chief Scientist Office and National Research Scotland through a Scottish Senior Clinical Fellowship award.

Experts say the new findings help clarify how infants, who are considered sterile before birth, get essential microbes from mothers during and after delivery.

“Microbiome transfer and development are so important that evolution has ensured that those microbes are transferred one or another way from mother to child,” said Debby Bogaert, first study author and a physician-scientist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, in a press release.

“Breastfeeding becomes even more important for children born by cesarean section who do not receive gut and vaginal microbes from their mom,” she added.

Microbes are naturally present bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live on the skin and inside the body.

The study authors say that while the maternal microbiome is linked to almost 60% of the infant’s total microbiome, there’s still 40% that experts need to explore.

The connection between early life exposure to microbes from the mother and later-life health, including the presence of asthma and allergies, is also an area the study authors said they want to research next.

Dr. Manisha Gandhi, the vice chair of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)’s Committee on Clinical Practice Guidelines for Obstetrics, told Healthline that this study adds to the work being done on investigating the development of the infant microbiome and better understanding the contributions from maternal versus environmental factors.

The study authors explained that although infants delivered via unlabored cesarean delivery may not have as many contributions from the maternal microbiomes as vaginal and labored or cesarean deliveries, the breast milk microbiome contributes further to the infant microbiome in unlabored cesarean deliveries.

This phenomenon, Gandhi said, appears plausible as there are many contributing factors to the infant microbiome.

Dr. Edgar Navarro Garza, a pediatrician with Harbor Health in Austin, Texas, told Healthline that the new research is an accurate study with the presence of possible variables and co-factors that may affect results.

He notes the importance of not forgetting that the transmission of microbiota occurs through different routes (mode of delivery, breastmilk, skin-to-skin contact, saliva, and the presence of siblings.

Gandhi said that regardless of how the infant microbiome develops from different maternal factors, “microbiome development should not influence” how a baby is delivered.

“We are still trying to understand what are the benefits of the maternal microbiome on the infant microbiome, therefore, suggesting one mode of delivery over another is not recommended,” she said.

“Instead, the study provides evidence that the infant microbiome has contributions from multiple maternal factors that are not limited to the mode of delivery,” she added.

Despite the mode of delivery (C-section or not), Garza said breastfeeding, in most cases, will always be a healthier option for the nutrition for infants.

He adds that apart from the emphasis on the transmission of microbiota, a new mother needs to also take into consideration the transmission of antibodies through breast milk, along with the mother-infant bonding process.

Gandhi adds that maternal and infant benefits of breastfeeding are well-documented and breastfeeding is encouraged for all infants when feasible.

Gandhi also shared some the recommendations from the ACOG on breastfeeding:

  • Women are strongly encouraged to breastfeed and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supports each woman’s right to breastfeed. Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first 6 months of life, with continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced during the infant’s first year of life, or longer, as mutually desired by the woman and her infant.
  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supports individuals’ informed decision-making about breastfeeding, free from commercial influence, coercion, and bias. Parents have the right to make their own informed choice about whether or not to breastfeed.
  • Obstetrician–gynecologists and other obstetric care providers should support each woman’s informed decision about whether to initiate or continue breastfeeding, recognizing that she is uniquely qualified to decide whether exclusive breastfeeding, mixed feeding, or formula feeding is optimal for her and her infant.