The succession of bacterial populations in the large bowel of seven breast-fed and seven formula-fed infants was examined during the first year of life. The composition of the intestinal microflora varied according to the infant's diet. During the first week of life breast-fed and formula-fed infants were colonised by enterobacteria and enterococci followed by bifidobacteria, spp., clostridia and anaerobic streptococci. From week 4 until solid foods were given, breast-fed babies had a simple flora consisting of bifidobacteria and relatively few enterobacteria and enterococci. Formula-fed babies during the corresponding period were more often colonised by other anaerobes in addition to bifidobacteria and had higher counts of facultatively anaerobic bacteria. The introduction of solid food to the breast-fed infants caused a major disturbance in the microbial ecology of the large bowel as counts of enterobacteria and enterococci rose sharply and colonisation by spp., clostridia and anaerobic streptococci occurred. This was not observed when formula-fed infants began to take solids; instead, counts of facultative anaerobes remained high while colonisation by anaerobes other than bifidobacteria continued. At 12 months, the anaerobic bacterial populations of the large bowel of breast-fed and formula-fed infants were beginning to resemble those of adults in number and composition and there was a corresponding decrease in the number of facultative anaerobes. These changes are discussed in relation to changes in susceptibility to gastro-intestinal infection.


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