As adults many of us have heard of the benefit of healthy gut bacteria in assisting your digestive health, helping to support your immune health, and even in the prevention and treatment of some skin conditions such as eczema. But did you know that the health of your baby’s gut microbiome (the populations of good bacteria in your tiny ones tummy) is just as important in the early stages of life?
What is normal baby gut health?
Most babies are born with a mix of beneficial bacteria in their gut microbiome. In healthy newborn babies, this mix is made up of beneficial bacteria that support digestive health and immune health.
- A healthy digestive system allows for the absorption of key nutrients from the foods we eat, leading to strong growth and development rates.
- A healthy immune system helps to increase your child’s defences to protect them from childhood illnesses now, and builds healthy immunity for later in life.
Why is it important to support your child's gut microbiome?
Recent research has found that an alterations to the balance of a healthy gut bacteria during infancy can have a negative effect on their immune health into adulthood - meaning that disordered gut health early in life, can have life long ramifications.
Further studies into the area support this idea that healthy gut bacteria is essential in babies and young children to reduce the risk of developing atopic conditions such as asthma and eczema, digestive symptoms such as colic, and even in the eventuality of lifestyle related conditions in adulthood, such as obesity.
How do baby's develop healthy gut flora?
Just as a mother passes strong, healthy immune building factors to her baby through her placenta during pregnancy and through her breast milk following birth, so too is beneficial bacteria passed from mother to child through these same mechanisms.
To get the most out of your pregnancy and the early years of your child’s life, some simple steps can be taken to reduce the risk of any short term changes to their gut flora by understanding the role of good bacteria during pregnancy, and the effect of diet and the environment a child lives in after birth.
Healthy inside and out: 3 handy tips for supporting your bubs healthy gut
1. During pregnancy and breastfeeding
During pregnancy and when breastfeeding, it's important for the mother to have a balanced diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy (or calcium rich dairy alternatives) and protein sources (either animal or vegetable) to ensure baby gets their share of key nutrients to support their healthy growth and development. Also part of a healthy diet probiotic foods (like good quality yoghurt or other fermented foods like kombucha and sauerkraut), and prebiotic foods (like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables) are particularly important to support a healthy gut and healthy gut bacteria.
Mothers can also consider taking probiotic supplements during pregnancy to support their balance of healthy gut bacteria and the benefit this has to her developing baby.
Where possible, breastfeeding can be supportive for sharing immunity and nutrients to your baby due to its probiotic and nutrient balance. Breast milk whilst containing beneficial bacteria also contains oligosaccharides - carbohydrates that helps to stimulate the development of healthy bacteria in an infants’ gut. Skin to skin contact in the early hours after delivery can also benefit milk production and support the development of healthy gut flora balance in the infant.
2. Your baby's diet and supplements
The age of 4 to 6 months is a crucial time in healthy intestine development with the introduction of solids and initial exploring of little hands. This period until the age 3 is when children´s gut bacteria begins to develop and look similar to that of an adult. Ensuring children have a well-balanced diet and include probiotic and prebiotic foods such as yoghurts and grains will help support this healthy microbiome development.
Particularly for babies that are bottle-fed, probiotic supplementation in the form of baby drops is also an easy way to nourish your baby’s microbiome and support a healthy digestive tract, immunity and the development of good bacteria.
Probiotic strains BR03 and B632 have been found to be effective in preventing colic in bottle-fed infants, and according to the study published by the JAMA Pediatrics Journal, supplementation in the form of probiotic drops are found essential in preventing and reducing the effects of colic in a newborn.
3. Contact with the environment
Children will be exposed to many challenges to their immunity over the course of their childhood. Many of these challenges will result from and be remedied by their exposure to good and bad bacteria both inside and outside of the house. Allowing them to explore freely and not being too over cautious with antiseptic hand wipes and sterile surfaces will help their bodies to naturally develop healthy immunity, while being sure their health is still supported and strengthened. Coupled with a healthy diet and well indicated probiotic supplements, healthy contact with the outside world will ensure your little ones have the best chance possible for a strong and healthy gut and immune system.