History of Breastfeeding but not Mode of Delivery Shapes the Gut Microbiome in Childhood

HIstory of breastfeeding

 Relative abundance of the most common phyla by feeding practice (FP). Credit: journals.plos.org


The naïve neonatal gut is sensitive to early life experiences. Events during this critical developmental window may have life-long impacts on the gut microbiota. Two experiences that have been associated with variation in the gut microbiome in infancy are mode of delivery and feeding practices (eg, breastfeeding). It remains unclear whether these early experiences are responsible for microbial differences beyond toddlerhood.


Our study examined whether mode of delivery and infant feeding practices are associated with differences in the child and adolescent microbiome.

Design, subjects, measures

We used an adoption-sibling design to compare genetically related siblings who were reared together or apart. Gut microbiome samples were collected from 73 children (M = 11 years, SD = 3 years, range = 3–18 years). Parents reported on child breastfeeding history, age, sex, height, and weight. Mode of delivery was collected through medical records and phone interviews.


Negative binomial mixed effects models were used to identify whether mode of delivery and feeding practices were related to differences in phylum and genus-level abundance of bacteria found in the gut of child participants. Covariates included age, sex, and body mass index. Genetic relatedness and rearing environment were accounted for as random effects. We observed a significant association between lack of breastfeeding during infancy and a greater number of the genus Bacteroides in stool in childhood and adolescence.


The absence of breastfeeding may impart lasting effects on the gut microbiome well into childhood.


Authors : Cioffi CC, Tavalire HF, Neiderhiser JM, Bohannan B, Leve LD (2020) History of breastfeeding but not mode of delivery shapes the gut microbiome in childhood. PLoS ONE 15(7): e0235223. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0235223

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