Maternal breast-milk and intestinal bifidobacteria guide the compositional development of the Bifidobacterium microbiota in infants at risk of allergic disease

Clin Exp Allergy. 2007 Dec;37(12):1764-72. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2222.2007.02849.x. Epub 2007 Oct 16.


Background: The sources and the impact of maternal bacteria on the initial inoculum of the intestinal microflora of newborn infants remain elusive.

Objective: To assess the association between maternal breast-milk and fecal bifidobacteria and infants' fecal bifidobacteria.

Methods: Sixty-one mother-infant pairs were included, special emphasis being placed on the maternal allergic status. Bifidobacteria were analysed by a direct PCR method in fecal samples from mothers at 30-35 weeks of gestation and from infants at 1 month of age and from breast-milk samples 1 month post-partum.

Results: Fecal Bifidobacterium adolescentis and Bifidobacterium bifidum colonization frequencies and counts among mother-infant pairs correlated significantly (P=0.005 and 0.02 for frequencies, respectively, and P=0.002 and 0.01 for counts, respectively). Only infants of allergic, atopic mothers were colonized with B. adolescentis. Each of the breast-milk samples contained bifidobacteria [median 1.4 x 10(3) bacterial cells/mL; interquartile range (IQR) 48.7-3.8 x 10(3)]. Bifidobacterium longum was the most frequently detected species in breast-milk. Allergic mothers had significantly lower amounts of bifidobacteria in breast-milk compared with non-allergic mothers [median 1.3 x 10(3) bacterial cells/mL (IQR 22.4-3.0 x 10(3)) vs. 5.6 x 10(3) bacterial cells/mL (1.8 x 10(3)-1.8 x 10(4)), respectively, (P=0.004)], and their infants had concurrently lower counts of bifidobacteria in feces [3.9 x 10(8) bacterial cells/g (IQR 6.5 x 10(6)-1.5 x 10(9)) in infants of allergic mothers, vs. 2.5 x 10(9) bacterial cells/g (6.5 x 10(8)-3.2 x 10(10)) in infants of non-allergic mothers, P=0.013].

Conclusions: Breast-milk contains significant numbers of bifidobacteria and the maternal allergic status further deranges the counts of bifidobacteria in breast-milk. Maternal fecal and breast-milk bifidobacterial counts impacted on the infants' fecal Bifidobacterium levels. Breast-milk bacteria should thus be considered an important source of bacteria in the establishment of infantile intestinal microbiota.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bifidobacteriales Infections / microbiology
  • Bifidobacteriales Infections / transmission
  • Bifidobacterium / physiology*
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / immunology
  • Hypersensitivity / microbiology*
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intestines / microbiology*
  • Milk, Human / microbiology*
  • Mothers*
  • Risk Factors