Vertical mother-neonate transfer of maternal gut bacteria via breastfeeding

Environ Microbiol. 2014 Sep;16(9):2891-904. doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.12238. Epub 2013 Sep 3.


Breast milk has recently been recognized as source of commensal and potential probiotic bacteria. The present study investigated whether viable strains of gut-associated obligate anaerobes are shared between the maternal and neonatal gut ecosystem via breastfeeding. Maternal faeces, breast milk and corresponding neonatal faeces collected from seven mothers-neonate pairs at three neonatal sampling points were analyzed by culture-independent (pyrosequencing) and culture-dependent methods (16S rRNA gene sequencing, pulsed field gel electrophoresis, random amplified polymorphic DNA and repetitive extragenic palindromic polymerase chain reaction. Pyrosequencing allowed identifying gut-associated obligate anaerobic genera, like Bifidobacterium, Bacteroides, Parabacteroides and members of the Clostridia (Blautia, Clostridium, Collinsella and Veillonella) shared between maternal faeces, breast milk and neonatal faeces. Using culture, a viable strain of Bifidobacterium breve was shown to be shared between all three ecosystems within one mother-neonate pair. Furthermore, pyrosequencing revealed that several butyrate-producing members of the Clostridia (Coprococcus, Faecalibacterium, Roseburia and Subdoligranulum) were shared between maternal faeces and breast milk. This study shows that (viable) obligate gut-associated anaerobes may be vertically transferred from mother to neonate via breastfeeding. Thus, our data support the recently suggested hypothesis of a novel way of mother-neonate communication, in which maternal gut bacteria reach breast milk via an entero-mammary pathway to influence neonatal gut colonization and maturation of the immune system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / classification*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria, Anaerobic / classification
  • Bacteria, Anaerobic / genetics
  • Bifidobacterium / classification
  • Bifidobacterium / genetics
  • Breast Feeding*
  • DNA Fingerprinting
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Feces / microbiology*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / classification
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / genetics
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Milk, Human / microbiology*
  • Probiotics
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S