Bifidobacteria are one of the most common probiotic bacteria that found in the human body. The Bifidobacterium species makes up more than 80% of microorganisms within the intestine, and Bifidobacterium infantis is the one of the most abundant species in the bodies of breast-fed babies. This is largely because B. infantis is passed onto a newborn through breast milk.
Like other Bifidobacterium strains, B. bifidum is anaerobic, which means it doesn’t require oxygen to survive. It’s neither motile nor spore-forming. It’s also a subspecies of Bifidobacterium longum. Most of the B. bifidum in our bodies are found in the colon, lower small intestine, breast milk, as well as in the vagina.
Before birth, babies are exposed to small amounts of bacteria via the placenta. However, most of the bacteria that will colonize their body are picked up as they pass through the birth canal. These microbes are essential for providing the immune defense they will need throughout life.
During breastfeeding, the baby may receive anywhere from 10 to 100 million bacterial cells every day through breast milk alone. These bacteria are comprised of hundreds of different species.
Research shows that the organisms in breast milk play a vital role in nourishing a baby’s gut bacteria. The most important of these is B infantis, the only strain that can fully break down and utilize the sugars in milk.
Like other Bifidobacteria, B. infantis produces short-chain fatty acids in the gut. These include acetic acid, which helps to nourish the cells lining the intestines. Acetic acid fights off invading pathogens such as yeast and fungus that can lead to infections. Even more importantly, acetic acid functions as an energy source for the baby.
Because babies are born with open spaces between their intestinal cells, they’re highly vulnerable to invading toxins and harmful bacteria. Bifidobacterium infantis has the job of signaling to the cells lining the gut and promoting the production of proteins to fill these gaps. As the baby grows, these proteins help to strengthen the gut lining and reduce the permeability.
Bifidobacterium infantis also helps to crowd out bad bacteria and prevent it from causing dysbiosis in the gut. In an infant, B. infantis is necessary for the breakdown of human milk oligosaccharides (sugars in breast milk), which is why it dominates a newborn’s microbiome. This has the added bonus of preventing pathogens from invading and settling into the gut, where they can lead to illness.
The production of folate is another vital function of B. infantis. Folate – also known as vitamin B9 – is vital for the production of red blood cells in the body, which carry oxygen. Folate plays a major role in the healthy development by supporting DNA synthesis and repair.
For adults, Bifidobacterium infantis is beneficial to the gut and digestive function. A study published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics suggested that B. infantis can help to relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, such as abdominal pain, gas and bloating.
It may also help to reduce levels of inflammation in patients with ulcerative colitis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and psoriasis.