Human milk contains a diverse community of bacteria. The growing appreciation of commensal microbes and increasing availability of high-throughput technology has set the stage for a theory-driven approach to the study of milk microbiota, and translation of this knowledge to improve maternal and child health. We recently profiled the milk microbiota of healthy Canadian mothers and applied theory-driven causal modeling, finding that mode of breast milk feeding (nursing directly at the breast vs. pumping and feeding breast milk from a bottle) was significantly associated with milk microbiota composition. This observation could reflect an increased exposure to pumps and/or a decreased exposure to the infant mouth. Either way, it provides evidence for the retrograde mechanism of milk inoculation. Here, we discuss the implications of this research and related controversies, and raise new questions about the origins and function of milk bacteria.
Keywords: Breastfeeding; CHILD cohort; entero-mammary pathway; milk microbiota; pump; retrograde inoculation.