Maternal Diet Shapes the Breast Milk Microbiota Composition and Diversity: Impact of Mode of Delivery and Antibiotic Exposure

J Nutr. 2021 Feb 1;151(2):330-340. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxaa310.


Background: Breast milk is a complex biofluid that provides nutrients and bioactive agents, including bacteria, for the development of the infant gut microbiota. However, the impact of maternal diet and other factors, such as mode of delivery and antibiotic exposure, on the breast milk microbiota has yet to be understood.

Objectives: This study aimed to examine the association between maternal diet and breast milk microbiota and to ascertain the potential role of mode of delivery and antibiotic exposure.

Methods: In a cross-sectional study of the MAMI cohort, breast milk microbiota profiling was assessed in 120 samples from healthy mothers by 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Maternal dietary information was recorded through an FFQ, and clinical characteristics, including mode of delivery, antibiotic exposure, and exclusive breastfeeding, were collected.

Results: Maternal diet was grouped into 2 clusters: Cluster I (high intake of plant protein, fiber, and carbohydrates), and Cluster II (high intake of animal protein and lipids). Breast milk microbiota was shaped by maternal dietary clusters. Staphylococcus and Bifidobacterium were associated with carbohydrate intake whereas the Streptococcus genus was associated with intakes of the n-3 PUFAs [EPA and docosapentaenoic acid (22:5ω-3)]. Mode of delivery and antibiotic exposure influenced breast milk microbiota in a diet cluster-dependent manner. Differences between/among the maternal dietary clusters were found in the milk microbiota of the cesarean-section (C-section)/antibiotic group, whereas no differences were observed in vaginal births. Lower abundances of Lactobacillus, Bacteroides, and Sediminibacterium genera were observed in Cluster II/C-section/antibiotic exposure compared with the other groups.

Conclusions: Maternal diet shapes the composition and diversity of breast milk microbiota, with the most important contributions coming from dietary fiber and both plant and animal protein intakes. The relation between the maternal diet and the milk microbiota needs further research because it has a key impact on infant microbiota development and contributes to infant health outcomes in the short and long term.This trial was registered at as NCT03552939.

Keywords: animal protein; breast milk; maternal diet; microbiota; plant protein.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Bacteria / classification*
  • Bacteria / drug effects
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Microbiota / drug effects*
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Milk, Human / microbiology*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents

Associated data