Cork scientists have found that breast feeding is particularly important for babies born by Caesarean section, and especially those born early (before 35 weeks), as it helps to develop a more ‘normal’ gut microbiota (bacterial community).

In this in-depth study, scientists at the APC Microbiome Institute led by Prof Catherine Stanton at Teagasc and Prof Anthony Ryan at University College Cork and Cork University Maternity Hospital, compared development of the gut microbiota of 199 infants from 1 to 24 weeks of age.

The infants in the study were initially breast fed following vaginal or Caesarean section delivery and included both full-term and pre-term (<35 weeks gestation) births.

The microbiota of babies born by Caesarean section can be optimised to be similar to that of vaginally-born babies by breastfeeding.

Full-term babies born by C-section who were breast-fed for at least 4 weeks were found to have similar gut bacteria to vaginally born babies, by 8 weeks of age.

All infants, whether preterm or full-term and born vaginally or by C-section, had similar gut microbiota compositions at 24 weeks of age.

The population of gut bacteria develops over the first 2-3 years of a baby’s life and is known to play a key role in human health.

At birth, the population of bacteria found on babies resembles that of the mother’s vagina if born vaginally, or that of skin, if born by C-section.