WINNIPEG -- A new study involving a University of Manitoba researcher has shown bacteria can be transferred from a mother’s milk to an infant’s gut.

The research, conducted in partnership with the University of British Columbia, was published on Friday in the academic journal Cell Host & Microbe. It said breastfeeding directly at the breast best supports the process.

“In this study, we looked at the breast milk and the stool of mothers and babies from a large national study called the Child Study,” said Dr. Meghan Azad, an associate professor at the University of Manitoba, who is involved with the study. “We did that because we’re interested in their microbiomes, so, the bacteria that live in and on our body that do so many important things.

“We think it’s really important to understand how that gets established very early in life.”

The research found some of the bacteria present in the mother’s breast milk are also present in the child’s stool.

“It tells us that maybe those particular bacteria are especially important,” Azad said. “Maybe they would be good candidates to be probiotics, outside of this spear of mothers and babies.

“It’s interesting because we know the microbiome is really important throughout our lives, so understanding how breast milk affects this early in life is important new information.”

Azad said the early development of the bacteria could help with a child’s health as they get older.

“We’ve shown that the bacteria in the infant's gut very early on, seems to be correlated with the risk of developing allergies and asthma very early in life,” she said. “In that early window of development, babies are still developing their immune system, and we know the gut bacteria is important for training their immune system to understand what is a harmful bacteria or pathogen, and what is a helpful one.”

Azad said there are 3,500 families participating in the study, with 1,200 samples used for this section of the study. They sampled the breast milk at three months of age, and sampled the stool at the same age, and then again at one-year-old. The babies are now eight-years-old, Azad said.

“There is lots more research to do to see how what we’ve found in this first study may be impacting the health of these children as they grow up,” she said.