Real-time PCR and northern hybridisations were used to quantify bacterial populations in the large gut of infants. PCR primers for rapid, sensitive, high throughput detection of bifidobacteria, bacteroides, sulphate-reducing bacteria and Enterococcus faecalis, based on analysis of 16S rRNA genes were used. Bacterial populations were analysed in faeces from 40 infants aged 0–6, 7–12 and 13–24 months. The effects of breast versus bottle feeding was also investigated. Real-time PCR indicated that bacteroides and desulfovibrio numbers increased markedly in the 7–12 and 13–24 month age groups, and that the reverse occurred with Ent. faecalis. With the exception of desulfovibrios, this was seen with northern hybridisations, which also showed increased colonisation by the Clostridium coccoides group and Faecalibacterium prausnitzii after 6 months. Both methodologies indicated increased bifidobacteria in breast-fed babies, and higher levels of desulfovibrios in bottle-fed children.