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Brisbane researchers have made an important discovery which helps us understand why breast is best for baby.
The findings of the study prove that a unique reaction that occurs between breast milk and baby saliva is able to hold dangerous bacteria in babies at bay and can have lifelong positive effects on health.
Mater Mothers’ Hospital's neonatologist Helen Liley participated in the study and said that the interaction discovered not only strengthens immunity but also assists in the development of the newborns’ digestive system.
“We have known for a long time that breast is best but because of these findings we now know why,” Dr Liley said.
“This previously unknown interaction helps to encourage the growth of healthy bacteria while inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria and appears to provide a unique mechanism that boosts early immunity.”
The study found that the median levels of xanthine and hypoxanthine, found in saliva, were 10 times more concentrated in the saliva of newborns than in adults.
Moreover, when these two substances were mixed with enzymes found only in breast milk, harmful bacteria such as staphylococcus and salmonella were inhibited while others were promoted such as non-harmful lactobacillus.
Importantly, this interaction is short-lived, lasting for about six weeks after birth and therefore has critical implications particularly for preterm and seriously ill newborns.
“Many babies who need intensive care, particularly those born preterm are fed by a tube from the baby’s mouth or nostril into the stomach during their first weeks, meaning that their milk bypasses the milk-saliva interaction,” Dr Liley said.
“We will now need to consider how we make use of these findings and work towards discovering a way to better expose tube-fed newborns to this valuable interaction.”
Mater Mothers’ Hospitals Neonatal Critical Care Unit collaborated with researchers from The University of Queensland School of Pharmacy and Queensland University of Technology Department of Microbiology on the breakthrough study.