For several years now, there has been research coming out showing that children who are breastfed have a far more diverse microbiome than children who aren’t. Many studies also show that infants given antibiotics have increased rates of diabetes and obesity when they get older. The theory is that the destruction of beneficial bacteria due to antibiotics leads to an elevated risk of poor health.
In our clinic, we have always recommended that children be breastfed for a long as possible. Research conducted in both the U.S. and the U.K. has demonstrated that children who breastfeed for extended periods have higher levels of beneficial Prevotella and Bacteroides in their gut. These bacteria produce enzymes that help facilitate the efficient break down of carbohydrates in the gastrointestinal tract. The beneficial bacteria also make it harder for pathogens like yeast and other fungi to colonize the gut.
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Of course, breastfeeding is not possible in all circumstances. In that case, as the child gets older, introduce yogurt or other cultured and fermented foods into their diet. The aim is to help these children build a diverse, healthy gut microbiome.
A healthy microbiome is associated with less anxiety, depression, and cognitive dysfunction in the adolescent years and beyond.
Breastfeeding is great for bonding, and it’s great for the child’s gut. If you can make it work, the longer you breastfeed, the better.