Microbial Interrelationships across Sites of Breastfeeding Mothers and Infants at 6 Weeks Postpartum

Erin C. Davis, Mei Wang, Sharon M. Donovan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Infancy is a critical life stage for the establishment of the gut microbiome. Human milk contains a unique microbial ecosystem that serves as a continuous source of commensal bacteria for the infant. However, the origin of the human milk microbiota, how it is influenced by breastfeeding exclusivity, and its role in infant gut microbiota assembly are not clear. To interrogate these questions, we examined the relationships among fecal, oral, breast skin, and human milk microbiota of 33 exclusively breastfeeding (EBF) and mixed-feeding (MF; human milk + infant formula) mother–infant pairs at 6 weeks postpartum. Here, we show that MF infants have a significantly more diverse oral microbiome comprised of lower relative abundances of Streptococcus and Gemella and higher abundances of Veillonella. Using both SourceTracker2 and FEAST, we demonstrate breast skin and infant saliva as the principal contributing sources to the human milk microbiota. Of the sampled sites, human milk and maternal stool were predicted to contribute the largest fraction to the infant fecal microbiome, but the majority of the community was estimated to arise from unknown sources. Lastly, we identified twenty-one significant co-occurrence relationships between bacteria in human milk and on other maternal and infant body sites. These results demonstrate several unique microbial interrelationships between breastfeeding dyads, providing insight into potential mechanisms of microbial assembly in early life.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1155
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • human milk
  • breastfeeding
  • human milk microbiome
  • infant microbiome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Virology
  • Microbiology


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