The current boom in microbiome research is uncovering disease trends related to infant microbial acquisition at birth due to mode of delivery. One example of this is the development of respiratory tract microbiota. Research has revealed infants born by caesarean section have a delay in overall development of respiratory microbiota profiles; specifically, reduced colonisation of health-associated commensals, Corynebacterium and Dolosigranulum. As microbial patterns in infants influence long-term health outcomes, this highlights the importance of microbiome support in early life.
While breastfeeding offers substantial benefits to the child, it is also associated with improved health outcomes for the mother. A prospective study of 300,000 Chinese women has shown that women who have given birth with a history of breastfeeding have approximately 10% lower risk of several major cardiovascular diseases in later life, with a further 3 to 4% risk reduction for every six months of breastfeeding. Conferring cardiovascular protection – yet another good reason to encourage your female patients to breastfeed for as long as they can.
Human breast milk is a rich composition of bioactive compounds influenced by several factors including genetics, mode of delivery, maternal nutrition, lactation stage and geographical region. Of these, maternal nutrition is perhaps the most modifiable factor. For example, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) consumption during late pregnancy and the postpartum period can affect the polyunsaturated fatty acid (omega-3:omega-6) ratio of breast milk. As these fatty acids have immunomodulatory properties, diet is a fundamental tool to influence the nutritional composition of breast milk to give our children the best possible start in life.