There is no denying the facts…a mother’s diet – preconception and during pregnancy – affects her child’s development. This includes the child’s gut microbiota. If you are new to this topic, we have taken a comprehensive look at pregnancy and gut health over here!
But today, we are going to discuss baby’s gut health.
Within a few weeks of being born, a baby’s gut is host to a community of billions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, primarily found in the gut. They shape many aspects of the child’s immune and digestive system, and even brain health…immediately and into the future.
How this microbiota assembles in a child is up for debate. As is everything!!!!
Some researchers accept that the womb is sterile, but some scientific evidence questions that belief (Walker, Clemente, Peter, & Loos, 2017). That means the baby may start developing the foundations of gut health in the womb through the placenta.
What is clear, though – birth sets off a massive transformation in the infant’s gut the moment the waters break. Even if there is an emergency C-section, breaking the waters instigates the migration of a whole new ecosystem to the baby.
But once baby starts traveling down the birth canal, that’s when the tsunami of beneficial bacteria hits. Baby gets completely swamped with bacteria starting a foundational microbiome.
Babies born by C-section get their first dose of microbes from their mother’s skin and the skin of whoever is present in the delivery room. That is why it is essential to have lots of skin-to-skin contact after baby is pulled from the womb.
I am sure you have heard about the evidence to suggest that caesarean section births impact a baby’s immune system, but it doesn’t mean that a child is destined to have an unhealthy gut microbiota for life.
The next big wave comes when baby is exposed to breast milk. Breast milk contains the exact nutrients a baby needs, including the right bacteria. It also has a wonderful prebiotic to feed baby’s microbiome.
This introduced and inherited microbiome from mum trains the baby’s body to digest foods, synthesize nutrients and develop the immune system. All essential for a child’s future optimal gut health.
But, if the mother’s diet is unhealthy during pregnancy and there are limited opportunities for optimal transfer of beneficial gut flora during birth and the first few months – through limited breastfeeding, antibiotic use, and a host of other factors – babies are faced with reduced diversity in their microbiota. This can lead to a greater risk of health conditions such as asthma, allergies, respiratory infections, irritable bowel disease, and obesity later in life.
What impact does gut health have on baby?
By the time we become adults, we have around 1,000 different species of gut bacteria. Most of them beneficial. These tiny microbes help fight off infection-causing pathogens, interact with the central nervous system that influences mental and cognitive health, and metabolize nutrients.
The groundwork for our adult gut health ecosystem is established by the age of three. The first few months of life can be essential to the foundations for optimal gut health.
Affect growth rate
Researchers have shown that the microbiota in a newborn’s gut is directly linked to growth in the early stages of infancy (White, et al., 2013). Along with all the other significant aspects of diet, care and genetics, the guts ecosystem can impact growth strongly by influencing how many calories a diet yields, in addition to the build-up of fat in our adipose cells.
There is a lot more work to do with this research, though. The gut health ecosystem in infants is only just being mapped and understood. Still, the potential for understanding the optimal composition of a baby’s gut health could have immense promise for the future.
Develops the Immune System
The most crucial period of immune system development is between birth and age three. And you guessed it, colonization begins when baby travels down the birth canal.
Many studies have shown that the initial bacteria and viruses that occupy our gut help train our immune system to recognize the enemy. Without this initiation, the immune system is weakened, and the body is likely to overreact to everyday substances like dust. This is thought to be one of the most likely causes of allergies in babies born prematurely.
Builds the Digestive Tract
A study reported in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research found that the oligosaccharides found in breast milk are the perfect prebiotic for beneficial bacteria. This allows the good bacteria to flourish and grow strong in the baby’s gut and coat the intestinal wall, which protects it from harmful pathogens and assists with the development of an efficient digestive system (Ward, Ninonuevo, Mills, Lebrilla, & German, 2007).
Impacts Brain Growth
Initial reports from a recent study analysing stool samples of over 250 children showed a significant association between a higher abundance of beneficial bacteria and brain network connectivity regarding attention and language acquisition. This study is still ongoing and is expected to continue follow-up with the children up to seven years (Bonham, Bruchhage, Rowland, Volpe, & Dyer, 2020).
A similar study by Carlson et al. (2018) found superior cognitive skills in the measures of gross motor, fine motor, visual reception, and expressive and receptive language skills in one- and two-year-olds who had a higher level of specific beneficial bacteria.
This research is all very new, and it isn’t fully understood why and how these outcomes are produced.
How to improve your baby’s gut health
It is clear from the research that vaginal birth and breastfeeding are the optimal ways of supporting a robust microbiota in baby. But these two options are often taken off the table through circumstance or choice.
So let’s take a look at some of the other things that we can do as parents to ensure that baby’s gut health is supported.
Look after your gut health
Mothers can give babies a leg up well before they go into labour. Gohir et al.,(2015) found that a mother’s weight, diet, and resultant gut microbiome impact the bacteria she passes to her baby.
An unbalanced microbiome can predispose potential risks in weight gain and other chronic diseases to the baby. Please take a look at our pregnancy and gut health article here if you need any further information.
A daily dose of Gut Performance® will give your gut the workout it needs to keep it in tip-top shape before baby arrives and beyond.
Breastfeed…even if it’s only for a short time.
Despite how baby is delivered, their first diet is the next foundation on which future gut health is built.
One of the best practices for improving or keeping your baby’s microbiome healthy is to breastfeed. Apart from delivering beneficial bacteria through milk, the milk has oligosaccharides that serve as prebiotics for bacteria.
It is believed that if a child is breastfed for at least six months, the benefits can impact the child’s microbiome for up to seven years.
Sometimes breastfeeding is not possible. This is a fact of life.
If this is the case, you should talk with your health care provider about your options to optimize the baby’s gut health when being bottle-fed.
Reduce antibiotics after birth
Women are often prescribed antibiotics during pregnancy or after birth – particularly to prevent infection after a Caesarean or suturing of extensive episiotomies.
We are not under any illusions. Antibiotics are lifesavers. But they kill bugs indiscriminately, and many of the beneficial bacteria essential for babies’ future health are taken out in the friendly fire (Bokulich, et al., 2016).
Remember, antibiotics can influence the microbiota, and this has long-term health consequences. But they are also valuable and shouldn’t be avoided entirely.
You need to be aware of this information and talk with your health care provider to figure out if antibiotics are the first and best line of treatment in each case of illness of you and your baby.
This is particularly important if baby needs to take an antibiotic. Speak with your paediatrician or health care practitioner about the use of probiotics being taken along with antibiotic drugs. This can often counteract diarrhea, which is a common side effect.
Let them be exposed to a bit of dirt
As with antibiotics, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Suppose you are constantly sanitizing and cleaning every bit of potential and unseen dirt of your baby and the surroundings. In that case, you are disrupting the ancient pathways of colonization.
Remember, diversity is best for gut health. The more variety, the healthier you are.
Children should be exposed to a wide range of bacteria for them to develop a robust immune system. We do not suggest you stop washing your hands after the toilet or before eating or feeding a baby – that is part of good hygiene.
But the overuse of antibacterial soaps and cleansers for everyday cleaning of baby and the environment can negatively impact the average infant. Overuse can lead to the promotion and survival of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in some circumstances and strip the baby’s skin of beneficial bacteria.
Don’t start solids too quickly
It is generally accepted to introduce solids around 6 months. Introducing them too soon can boost the risk of digestive disorders and set an unbalanced gut microbiome that will be hard to rectify later.
It is also beneficial to continue breastfeeding after the initial introduction of solids to maintain a healthy gut ecosystem. This will support babies as they are going through a significant transformation in the digestive system.
The content in this blog is for information purposes. Always consult your trusted health care professional for advice.
Let us know via our Gut Performance™ Instagram page if you are pregnant or just had a baby and what you are doing to support your family’s gut health.
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Bokulich, N. A., Chung, J., Battaglia, T., Henderson, N., Jay, M., Li, H., . . . Blaser, M. J. (2016). Antibiotics, birth mode, and diet shape microbiome maturation during early life. Science translational medicine, 8(343). Retrieved 2021, from https://doi.org/10.1126/scitranslmed.aad7121
Bonham, K. S., Bruchhage, M. M., Rowland, S., Volpe, A. R., & Dyer, K. (2020). Gut microbes and their genes are associated with brain development and cognitive function in healthy children. bioRxIV. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Retrieved 2021, from https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.02.13.944181
Carlson, A. L., Xia, K., Azcarate-Peril, M. A., Goldman, B. D., Ahn, M., Styner, M. A., . . . Knickmeyer, R. C. (2018). Infant Gut Microbiome Associated with Cognitive Development. Biological Psychiatry, 83(2), 148-159. Retrieved 2021, from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2017.06.021
Gohir, W., Ratcliffe, E. M., & Sloboda, D. M. (2015). Of the bugs that shape us: maternal obesity, the gut microbiome, and long-term disease risk. Pediatric Research, 77(1-2), 196-204. Retrieved 2021, from https://doi.org/10.1038/pr.2014.169
Walker, R. W., Clemente, J. C., Peter, I., & Loos, R. (2017). The prenatal gut microbiome: are we colonized with bacteria in utero? Pediatric obesity, 12(Suppl 1), 3-17. Retrieved 2021, from https://doi.org/10.1111/ijpo.12217
Ward, R. E., Ninonuevo, M., Mills, D., Lebrilla, C. B., & German, J. B. (2007). In vitro fermentability of human milk oligosaccharides by several strains of bifidobacteria. Molecular nutrition & food research, 51(11), 1398-1405. Retrieved 2021, from https://doi.org/10.1002/mnfr.200700150
White, R. A., Bjornholt, J. V., Baird, D. D., Midtvedt, T., Harris, J. R., Pagano, M., . . . Eggesbo, M. (2013). Novel developmental analyses identify longitudinal patterns of early gut microbiota that affect infant growth. PLoS computational biology, 9(5). Retrieved 2021, from https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003042