The development of a baby’s gut microbiome and immune system and the role of beneficial bacteria, Bifidobacteria

Scientifically reviewed by
Fathalla Ali, Bsc MSc, MPH and PHD student UNSW

A 2020 study of 88 African American babies during the first month of life included babies who were full term (>37 weeks) with no major genetic abnormalities. The study found that continuous breastfeeding for one month improved the rate of appearance of beneficial bacteria, namely Bifidobacteria.

A baby’s immune system develops through the education of microbes, mainly present in the gut microbiome, to decipher what cells are “friendly” and what cells are the “enemy”, or disease, and should be fought against. The crucial period for the development of a baby’s immune system, through the development of the baby’s gut microbiome, is between birth and 4 months of life. Bifidobacteria plays an important role in this crucial period. When a baby is born there is a transition period when the baby increasingly hosts beneficial bacteria, such as Bifidobacteria with bacterial DNA, as opposed to the baby only having human DNA in the gut microbiome. The Study found that this transition from predominantly bacterial microbes increases over time and occurs earlier in vaginal delivery babies than in C-section delivered babies. The Study also showed that after 16 hours after birth the bacterial DNA began to exceed the count of human DNA.

So:

  • The development of a baby’s gut microbiome, immune system and subsequent life long ability to fight disease occurs in the first 6 months of life.
  • Bifidobacteria plays an important role in the development of a baby’s gut microbiome, immune system and life long ability to fight disease.
  • The transition to the baby hosting more beneficial bacteria, such as Bifidobacteria, improves with breastfeeding.
  • The transition to the baby hosting more beneficial bacteria, such as Bifidobacteria, happens faster in vaginally delivered babies than in C-section delivered babies.

Keywords: Microbiota, mode of delivery, bacterial DNA, metabolite, gut metabolome reprograming

Reference:

Bittinger, K., Zhao, C., Li, Y., Ford, E., Friedman, E. S., Ni, J., Kulkarni, C. V., Cai, J., Tian, Y., Liu, Q., Patterson, A. D., Sarkar, D., Chan, S., Maranas, C., Saha-Shah, A., Lund, P., Garcia, B. A., Mattei, L. M., Gerber, J. S., Elovitz, M. A., … Wu, G. D. (2020). Bacterial colonization reprograms the neonatal gut metabolome. Nature microbiology, 5(6), 838–847. Click here