Could Feeding Babies Mom's Poop Keep Them Healthy?

Infants born via C-section may not receive important gut bacteria from their mothers as easily, but a new study finds that feeding babies diluted fecal matter through breast milk could be the solution—as bizarre as that sounds.

Studies have shown that babies get important gut bacteria from their mother during birth. This gut bacteria, or the millions of microbes that live in the gut, are a big deal for our health—they play a critical role in immunity, obesity, and development. But researchers have found babies born vaginally have more health-associated bacteria than those born via C-section.

Disrupted infant gut microbiota has been shown to affect the immune system and may increase the risk of asthma and allergies. Due to these negative outcomes, researchers have been looking to find bacterial therapies to help babies born via C-section obtain these important microbes.

A new study is offering a solution: fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), a treatment that has already been used on adults to cure disease like recurrent C. diff. Researchers, mostly from the University of Helsinki in Finland, found that transferring fecal samples from an infant’s mom immediately after birth was able to restore this gut bacteria.

poop emoji plus breastfeeding emoji on colored background
Illustration by Francesca Spatola; Getty Images (2)

Since stool can “contain dangerous pathogens,” mothers’ samples were carefully screened and seven were viable for the study. The diluted fecal matter was added to breast milk and then fed to the seven babies born via C-section.

These babies that received FMT stayed healthy, didn’t experience negative side effects, and were monitored for three months, according to the study. The results, published in the scientific journal Cell, appeared successful.

"The gut microbiota of the FMT-treated infants became very quickly similar to that of vaginally born infants," Katri Korpela, Ph.D., first author on the study, said in a statement. "It did not resemble that of the untreated C-section born infants, showing that the treatment was effective in restoring normal microbiota development."

Why this is a big deal? "This simple procedure can normalize gut microbiota colonization and development in C-section born infants, which will likely contribute to reduced risk of developing chronic diseases that abnormal gut microbiota may confer," said Otto Helve, M.D., a pediatric infectious diseases specialist and shared first author of the study.

While the results are exciting, experts who were not part of the study say larger and longer-term studies are needed in order to confirm the safety and health benefits of FMT for babies born by C-section. And another important note: this should never be attempted at home. "This procedure should be only performed after careful screening of the mother for potential pathogens," says Sture Andersson, M.D., neonatologist and senior author.

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