Fostering a Healthy Microbiome
When it comes to the gut health of babies, fostering a healthy microbiome can truly be a matter of life or death…that is just how critical the microbiome is to our bodies. It not only impacts nutritional status, but factors like bone development and immune function as well. Scientific studies of the newborn microbiome tell us that it is better to have a high diversity of bacterial species in the gut. Unfortunately, infants have up to 10 times fewer species of bacteria, with a much higher number of bad bacteria with antibiotic resistance.
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Infants get their gut bacteria from their mothers
Infants get their gut bacteria from their mothers by swallowing amniotic fluid and during the birth process. Typically, this is good bacteria that is beneficial to the baby, supplying their little gut with bacteria “helpers.” This bacteria will impact your baby’s metabolic function and immune system, impacting their lifelong risk for obesity, allergies, food-sensitivities, autoimmune disorders and asthma.
So, what can you do to improve the gut health of your baby? Here are 6 ways to boost your baby’s microbiome.
1. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet while pregnant or nursing.
Because your baby begins to develop their microbiome in-utero, eating a diet full of fiber and (pregnancy-safe) probiotic foods will lay the foundation for your infant’s lifelong health. A fiber-rich diet helps to increase the diversity of bacteria in your gut, maintaining a healthy gut barrier and decreasing the risk of “leaky gut” syndrome.
2. Do your best to avoid having a c-section.
I’ll start off by saying that c-sections are vital for the safe delivery of many infants. The fact is, c-sections save lives. May times, it is the safest option for you and your baby. Your obstetrician will guide you in making the best decision about delivery.
That being said, babies born by c-section are cheated out of mom’s healthy bacteria during delivery. Vaginally-delivered infants make their way through the birth canal and acquire a variety of healthy microbes from their mother. Babies born by c-section make their debut under strict sterile conditions and first meet unhealthy skin bacteria from mom’s stomach. These babies are at higher risk for developing food allergies, obesity and diabetes later on in life.
Make sure to talk with your doctor prior to delivery. They are well equipped to address your concerns and help you make the best decision for you and your baby.
You may also like: 12 Herbs that Fight Infection.
You may also like: Healthy Benefits of Bone Broth.
3. Hold off on the Bath
It is common practice for many hospitals to whisk your little one away for a bath during the first few hours of life. But, there’s really no need to bathe your baby right after birth. In fact, it can actually do more harm than good. When babies are bathed soon after birth, they loose all that vernix – the white, creamy substance that covers their skin. Vernix contains proteins that protect against common bacterial infections. It works as an “antibacterial” ointment, covering your baby in an anti-germ barrier.
Mother’s milk is a major contributor to her own infant’s microbiome. When compared to formula fed infants, microbial communities are more diverse with a better balance of good and bad bacterial communities colonized in the gut. Infants who are exclusively breastfed for at least 6 months have reduced rates of respiratory infections, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), allergies, food sensitives, obesity, and diabetes. If exclusively breastfeeding seems overwhelming, don’t fret. Even small amounts of breastmilk are beneficial to your baby.
Probiotic administration in infants remains somewhat controversial in the neonatology world, but emerging evidence continues to support their value in protecting the infant microbiome. Many clinical studies demonstrate reduced rates of necrotizing enterocolitis and death in preterm infants who receive probiotics in the NICU. At this point, the scientific community is still determining which probiotics are best for babies as all probiotics are not created equal.
For all babies (full-term or premature) probiotics support a healthy gut, decreasing the risk of eczema, food allergies and asthma. Talk to your pediatrician to see what they recommend.
6. Get a Dog
Yes, you read correctly. Get a dog.
Does housebreaking a new puppy while getting up every three hours with a newborn sound crazy? Well, you’re probably right. But you can’t beat the facts. Babies raised in homes with dogs have fewer infections that require antibiotic therapy. Antibiotics are life-saving, don’t get me wrong. But overuse of antibiotics creates “superbugs.” These bugs become resistant to many different antibiotics, making them incredibly hard to treat. Always double check with your pediatrician to see if your baby’s antibiotic prescription is necessary.
Having a dog in the home also reduces a baby’s risk of developing asthma, eczema and allergies later on in life. But take note, this exposure has to happen fairly early in your child’s life.