I have fond memories of my children as infants – the coos, the cuddles, the cuteness, and the overwhelming love. That fondness does not extend to the shared bodily fluids – like the stream of urine in the face when changing a diaper. (New parents quickly learn to cover up the offending bazooka.) Nor does it extend to the runny poop that seeps out of usually absorbent diapers – once on a pair of white pants I was wearing while visiting friends. Nor to the vomit and the spit… Wait! It turns out I was wrong about the spit. Saliva, when properly placed actually plays a role in communication. I am not talking about dissing someone by spitting in their face. The spit chatting I am referring to occurs while babies are nursing.
A plethora of recent studies show the importance of our gut biome. Now it seems, that mother’s milk, once thought of as sterile, is teeming with bacteria that colonize the infant’s gut. And those bacterial help the baby’s growing immune system and metabolism. Breast milk also affects the oral microbiome of newborn infants.
Dr. Sweeney from the University of Queensland, Australia noted that the make-up of newborns’ mouth microbiota is created by the mixing of breastmilk and babies’ saliva and the combination is a significant factor in health and wellbeing.
“Changes to these bacterial communities in newborns have important implications for infection or disease early in life,” she said. She also believes that the antimicrobial activity seen in the mouth may also continue within the baby’s stomach and intestines.
The saliva is essential because it turns out that pumped breast milk does not carry the same proliferation of beneficial bacteria. Dr. Azad from the University of Manitoba claims that when the mother nurses some of the baby’s bacteria enters the mother’s breast. Biologist Katie Hinde of Arizona State thinks this backwash of saliva may actually cause the mother to “create made-to-order immune factors that are delivered back to the baby in milk.
So, nursing moms- next time you are wiping off all that spit, don’t think ‘ugh’, think wellness.