Breast Feeding and the Intestinal Microflora of the Infant — Implications for Protection Against Infectious Diseases

  • A. E. Wold
  • I. Adlerberth
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 478)


Human breast milk contains an array of factors with anti-infectious potential, such as immunoglobulins (especially secretory IgA), oligosaccharides and glycoproteins with anti-adhesive capacity, and cytokines. Breast-feeding is associated with protection from the following infections or infection-related conditions: gastroenteritis, upper and lower respiratory tract infection, acute otitis media, urinary tract infection, neonatal septicaemia and necrotizing enterocolitis. Some of the protective effects may derive from an altered mucosal colonization pattern in the breast-fed infant. In other instances breast-fed infants develop less symptoms to the same microbe which causes disease in the bottle-fed infant. An example of an altered colonization pattern is that breast-fed infants have less P-fimbriated, but more type 1-fimbriated E. coli. This may protect against urinary tract infection in the breast-fed infant since P fimbriae are the major virulence factor for urinary tract infection. An example of changed consequences of the same microbial colonization is that secretory IgA in the breast-milk protects very efficiently from translocation of intestinal bacteria across the gut mucosa by coating intestinal bacteria and blocking their interaction with the epithelium. This mechanism may protect the infant from septicaemia of gut origin and, possibly, necrotizing enterocolitis. Breast-milk is also highly anti-inflammatogenic and contains hormone like factors which counteract diarrhea. Thus, breast-fed infants may be colonized by recognized diarrheal pathogens and still remain healthy. Due to a less virulent intestinal microflora and decreased translocation breast-fed infants will obtain less stimuli for the gut immune system, resulting, in e.g.,lower salivary IgA antibody titres.

Key words

Milk human IgA secretory large intestine bacterial adherence 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. E. Wold
    • 1
  • I. Adlerberth
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Clinical ImmunologyGoteborg UniversityGoteborgSweden

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