A systematic review of breast milk microbiota composition and the evidence for transfer to and colonisation of the infant gut

The intestinal microbiota plays a major role in infant health and development. However, the role of the breastmilk microbiota in infant gut colonisation remains unclear. A systematic review was performed to evaluate the composition of the breastmilk microbiota and evidence for transfer to/colonisation of the infant gut. Searches were performed using PUBMED, OVID, LILACS and PROQUEST from inception until 18th March 2020 with a PUBMED update to December 2021. 88 full texts were evaluated before final critique based on study power, sample contamination avoidance, storage, purification process, DNA extraction/analysis, and consideration of maternal health and other potential confounders. Risk of skin contamination was reduced mainly by breast cleaning and rejecting the first milk drops. Sample storage, DNA extraction and bioinformatics varied. Several studies stored samples under conditions that may selectively impact bacterial DNA preservation, others used preculture reducing reliability. Only 15 studies, with acceptable sample size, handling, extraction, and bacterial analysis, considered transfer of bacteria to the infant. Three reported bacterial transfer from infant to breastmilk. Despite consistent evidence for the breastmilk microbiota, and recent studies using improved methods to investigate factors affecting its composition, few studies adequately considered transfer to the infant gut providing very little evidence for effective impact on gut colonisation.

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Commissioned by the Early Nutrition and Long-Term Health Task Force.