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Breastmilk and baby saliva potent mix, study finds

Australian researchers have discovered an underlying reason why breast is best.

They found mixing unpasteurised breastmilk with certain compounds in the saliva of newborn infants had an antibacterial effect. The interaction was selectively antibacterial, capable of killing harmful entities such as staphylococcus and salmonella but not non-harmful bacteria.

The team of researchers, led by professor Nick Shaw at the University of Queensland, also found this previously unknown interaction simultaneously stimulates the development of a baby’s digestive system.

Neonatal care specialist associate professor Helen Liley said: “We [have known] for a long time that breast is best, but hadn’t demonstrated why before.”

Shaw said the interaction has critical implications for preterm, small and sick newborns. “Babies who are fed by intubation (gastric tube to the stomach) bypass the milk-saliva interaction, so there should be consideration of this factor,” he said.

He also cited an important detail for breastmilk banking. “Increasingly, in hospitals, donated breastmilk is given to preterm babies, rather than using formula milk, but pasteurising the breastmilk removes the beneficial mechanism,” he explained.

The research, published in PLOS ONE, also involved research from UQ’s School of Veterinary Science showing that saliva from cows, sheep, goats, horses, dogs, cats and camels showed the antibacterial function.

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