A healthy gastrointestinal system can have an enormous impact on the entire body, and this begins while your baby is still in the womb. Maintaining good gut health is vital – discover what that means and why it is so important for your baby.
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The digestive tract is often described as the ‘second brain’ and maintaining good gut health is fundamental to overall health and well-being.
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What is Gut Health?
While the term “gut health” is used frequently it is often misunderstood. Gut health refers to the amount of healthy microorganisms, such as bacteria, within the digestive system.
While you can constantly improve your gut health as you age through a healthy diet, exercising and the use of probiotics, it is our mothers who provide the foundation.
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Why is Infant Gut Health So Important?
Establishing good gut health early on in life is highly beneficial. There are several factors which can influence infant gut health, however a baby’s immune system is almost entirely dependent on the mother’s breastmilk for immune protection from its environment.
Let’s take a look at the contributing factors:
Breastmilk is a rich source of prebiotics to help lay the foundations of gut health for babies, with the World Health Organization now recommending exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months to promote health.
Breastmilk contains around 200 different types of prebiotics which feed the good bacteria within the gut.
As the digestive system is very immature upon birth, many babies lose up to 10 per cent of their body weight in the first few days as they adjust. The enzymes within breastmilk can also help make up for the lack of digestive enzymes babies have, and assist with putting this weight back quicker.
However, this is not to say that breastfeeding is the only option for new mothers. There are a number of factors that come into play when deciding how to feed your baby. Although breastfed and formula fed babies have shown to have different gut microbiome, the effects of this are yet to be fully understood or quantified. At the end of the day, fed is best.
If you are unable to breastfeed, seek donor milk if possible. If you are unable to do that, choose a safe formula that contains infant probiotics, or add a suitable infant probiotic to the formula.
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#2. Gestation Period
Your baby receives a first dose of bacteria during gestation through receiving nutrients from the placenta.
It was once believed that babies are born with a ‘virgin gut’ and all gut health was built after birth. However, we now know that is not the case and gut health begins building in utero.
Research shows that probiotics are passed from mum to baby both during pregnancy and through breastfeeding.
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#3. A Balanced Diet
While expectant mothers may experience some unhealthy cravings, it is important to ensure you still maintain a balanced diet during pregnancy.
Eating a well balanced diet will help transfer nutrients and good bacteria across the placenta, as well as being good for your own health. Additionally, taking a probiotic supplement can ensure that your baby is getting the needed probiotics.
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#4. Birthing Style
The mode of delivery has a big impact on an infant’s microbiota. Vaginal and intestinal microflora of the mother are passed onto baby through vaginal birth, which helps shape a newborns gut bacteria colonisation.
As your baby passes through the birth canal, s/he is exposed to the plethora of good bacteria. However, this does not mean that babies born via C-section will be any worse off than those born vaginally, they just don’t have this direct contact.
#5. Skin Contact
Requesting immediate skin-to-skin contact with mum and/or dad after birth can also help deliver good bacteria from your skin to your baby, as can delaying the first bath for at least 12 hours after birth.
Delaying the first bath reduces the risk of infection as babies are born covered in a white
substance known as vernix which contains proteins that prevent common bacterial
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#6. Development and Nutrition
Your baby’s digestive system is relatively immature after birth and the first six months will see enormous changes. Within those first six months, babies are developing their ability to produce enzymes that help digest food and create antibodies to protect themselves against pathogens.
After this time, babies start weaning – however it is important to continue to foster
good gut health through nutrition, proper sleep and hydration. Every baby is different
when it comes to weaning but by around six months of age your baby will be ready
to experience a variety of different foods to complement their breastmilk (or formula) intake.
Yoghurt contains many live and active cultures, good bacteria, that can be beneficial for young children. Adequate sleep and hydration are also key components of gut health and general wellbeing.
#7. Environmental Factors
In addition, children can acquire good gut bacteria and help boost their immune systems through environmental factors. Acquired immunity plays a big role in building a strong immune system and healthy gut.
Ensuring their surroundings are not overly clean and sanitised allows children to pick up certain bacteria and bugs from the environment in small quantities, which strengthens their immunity.
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The ‘good’ bacteria we’ve all heard about (but perhaps didn’t really understand) is clearly essential for our gut health at any age, and never more so than for babies.
Did you know all the factors which can affect your baby’s gut health? Leave a comment below and let us know – we’d love to hear from you!