(Reuters Health) – Breastfeeding may help prepare a baby’s intestines to handle the introduction of solid food, a small new study suggests. Compared to babies who receive formula, babies who are exclusively breastfed may have “gut bacteria” that help them tolerate new foods more easily, researchers found.
The study findings are very preliminary. The researchers only analyzed the bacteria of nine children, and not the children’s reactions to new foods. So they can’t say if those who got formula had worse experiences with new solid foods. Still, the researchers say the results may explain some links between gut bacteria and health conditions.
Previous studies have linked gut bacteria to obesity, allergies, and infectious diseases, the researchers write in Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology.
The nine babies ranged in age from one week to almost one year. Four were exclusively breastfed for part of the study. Some also received formula. Overall, eight received breast milk.
The researchers collected 49 stool samples from the children over an average of 16 weeks, to analyze each infant’s gut bacteria.