Baby gut health beyond breastmilk

For a long time, doctors and researchers who worked on child health believed that breastmilk was the only food for a newborn baby. But over the past decade, doctors  have learned that a key part of this is the microbiome, a teeming universe of bacteria that live inside of our digestive tracts. This is especially important for babies.

But we have since learned that it is also food for the bacteria, the good bacteria that naturally live in the gut of the baby. We’ve discovered that these bacteria are called bifidobacteria, and they help break down complex sugars in the breastmilk into nutrients. Now we know that we can actually support newborns, especially those born early, by supplementing their feeding with probiotics that contain bifidobacteria.

Bifidobacteria can be given as a powder mixed with breastmilk or in a dropper to help the baby’s gut microbiome begin on the right sequence. This helps the baby grow, but also supports the development of their immune system—after all, the gut is the largest interface with the external world.

What is even more interesting is that these bifidobacteria vary slightly across geographies, but enough for us to contextualize its effects on babies in different parts of the world. There is still much more we need to learn about the microbiome. But what we know now can greatly increase the odds of allowing a baby to survive and grow well beyond the first 30 days of life.

​Adapted from Dr. Fyezah Jehan's talk at the Gates Foundation GoalKeepers 2023 event on September 20, 2023 in New York, US. 

​​​Our research 

Reyes, S., Brockway, M., McDermid, J. et al. ​Human Milk Micronutrients and Child Growth and Body Composition in the First 2 years: A Systematic Review, Advances in Nutrition, 2023.​

​Muhammad, A., Fazal, Z.Z., Baloch, B. et al. Nutritional support and prophylaxis of azithromycin for pregnant women to improve birth outcomes in peri-urban slums of Karachi, Pakistan—a protocol of multi-arm assessor-blinded randomized controlled trial (Mumta PW trial). Trials 23, 2 (2022). ​​

Muhammad, A., Shafiq, Y., Nisar, M. et al. Nutritional support for lactating women with or without azithromycin for infants compared to breastfeeding counseling alone in improving the 6-month growth outcomes among infants of peri-urban slums in Karachi, Pakistan—the protocol for a multiarm assessor-blinded randomized controlled trial (Mumta LW trial)​. Trials 21, 756 (2020).​