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Is breast milk sterile?

For several decades powdered milk was considered the standard source of nutrition for all infants in the developed world. However, for the last decade more benefits were seen in human milk for optimal source of nutrition for healthy infants. Breast milk was always considered to be sterile but a recent article by Mark McGuire, titled “Characterization of the Diversity and Temporal Stability of Bacterial Communities in Human Milk”. McGuire showed that human milk is actually a diverse community of microbes. The most abundant being streptococcus, staphylococcus, serratia, corynebacteria. Although each women’s sample was different. Also, using infrared photography, Ramsay et al, shows high degree of retrograde flow back into the mammary ducts occurs during suckling. This back flow may provide an ideal route for the exchange of bacteria from the infant’s mouth into the mammary gland. The significance of this finding is still being investigated but the introduction of this incredibly complex microbiome plays a significant role in the bacterial colonization of the infant’s gastrointestinal tract. It is well known that breast feeding infants have a protection from diarrheal and respiratory diseases especially in the developing countries and is associated with reduced long term risk of obesity.

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Dr Paul M.

Senior Medical Staff Columnist


Dr Paul M. is a board certified surgeon with over 35 years of experience. He has held the title Chief of Staff at several hospitals and maintained a private practice for many years.

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