This article came out a few months back, but time has not diminished my amazement! Of the myriad species specific qualities that breastmilk possesses, one of the more fascinating is the 'probiotic' qualities. A newborn, born with a very sterile gut, lands in a world full of bacteria, good and bad. The probiotic qualities of breastmilk, or the good bacteria in breastmilk, sufficiently protect newborns from a host of sometimes lethal gastrointestinal diseases. The recently discovered, bifidobacterium longus, passes through breastmilk to the infant, and on its way out, coats the babies intestine with a protective coating, thereby serving the role of stomach acid, a substance babies don't yet possess much of. This coating acts as a decoy to potential bacteria and viruses, coaxing it to bypass the baby's gut.
Dr. E. Stephen Buescher, a pediatrician and scholar of breastmilk's many anti-infective and ant-inflammatory qualities, has an interesting theory as to why this protective coating not only benefits the gut, but also may contribute to the dramatic reduction in ear infections in breastfed infants. He had an exclusively breastfed son who spit up, a lot. After watching a plethora of spit up episodes, ones that sometimes exited the nasal orifices, he reasoned that the breastmilk when spit up was coating the upper respiratory tract with all of it's soothing and protective qualities, just like it coats the intestine. Embrace the spit up. It's better than an ear infection!
Scientists are beginning to understanding that breastmilk can serve as a lesson plan for how to nourish and protect the human body against pathogens, not just in babies. It is after all a food, specifically designed for humans, and the most vulnerable, swiftest growing of humans. The researchers aren't sure what happens, or where these bifidobacterium bacteria hide out in adults. But probiotic supplementation in America is a booming business, sales of it tripled between 1994 and 2003. Perhaps we could save our children some money in their future, by breastfeeding them now. As one of the researchers so eloquently summed it up, "It’s all there for a purpose, though we’re still figuring out what that purpose is,” Dr. Mills said. “So for God’s sake, please breast-feed.”