This weekend, as we celebrate Mother’s Day across the world, let us take a moment to reflect on the multitude of awesome ways that moms use their microbes to help protect their babies and guide their development. Thanks Mom!
Microbes protect eggshells from fungus: Some lizard moms seed their eggs with microbes as they pass through the cloaca (i.e., the end of the birth canal and digestive tract in non mammal invertebrates). Those microbes help to protect the shells from fungal growth, increasing survival rates.
Mom’s Immune response to microbes helps to kickstart baby’s immune system before birth: At birth, babies are exposed to masses of microbes. They need a functioning immune system to deal with that microbial influx. A study in rats showed that mothers help their babies to kickstart their immune system by transferring bacterial metabolites across the placenta, and also through their breast milk after birth.
Maternal microbe cocktails help to set up babies for digesting a special diet: In many species, like the Australian Koala, mothers produce a substance called pap from their anus. This substance is eaten by infants, giving them all the microbes they need for digestion of their special gum leaf diet.
Maternal milk contains food for baby microbes: Human milk contains several oligosaccharides that are not digested by the baby. Those Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs) travel all the way down to the infants colon where they are eaten by microbes that live in infant guts.
Breast milk and infant saliva work together to shape the infant microbiome: Studies have demonstrated that infant saliva and maternal breast milk work together to create reactive oxygen species. These species inhibit the growth of invasive pathogens and promote the growth of good bacteria. Mother and baby working together!