Gut Health Begins At Birth
There isn’t much that’s easy about having a new baby but thankfully one way to keep a baby healthy can happen naturally. Just as adults having healthy guts is important, babies need a rich gut microbiome, too. A healthy gut filled with diverse bacteria is one of the keys to a fully functional immune system. Building a strong immune system starts from the inside: all the way inside the womb.
Once upon a time we thought that the gastrointestinal tract of a fetus was sterile. As it turns out, placenta, amniotic fluid, and the umbilical cord all contain microorganisms, which likely populate the guts of babies. However, our gut is not fully populated with bacteria at birth; the first few years of life are an important time for us to build the immune system that will keep us healthy and alive for the rest of our lives. While creating the perfect mix of bacteria from scratch may seem like a challenging task, there are easy ways that parents can help make their baby as ready as possible to meet the challenges of life.
It starts at delivery. When given the choice between a vaginal birth and a cesarean section, keep in mind that the vagina inoculates the infant with microbiota when the baby moves through the vaginal canal. Babies born via c-section never enter the vaginal canal and miss out on the free microorganism bath. These babies emerge with smaller numbers of certain healthy bacteria.
Breast or bottle? Breast milk is specifically engineered by the body to meet the unique nutritional needs of your baby, and the baby’s gut microorganisms. Breast milk can have up to 600 different bacterial species and the prebiotics necessary to feed all those bacteria. This means that when breast-feeding an infant, that milk also provides nutrition for the organisms that line the baby’s intestines. Comparisons show better immune defenses to fight both viral and bacterial invaders in breast-fed babies rather than formula-fed babies. The benefits of breastfeeding are not unique to the milk contents. Surface bacteria on the breast also help feed the baby’s microbiome.
And how long is necessary for these positive effects? The WHO recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life and continuing to breast feed while introducing food for the following 18 months. If you have questions about breastfeeding, find a lactation consultant near you.
If breast milk is not an option, read formula ingredients carefully and choose a brand that contains probiotics or find an additional supplement to mix into the formula. Always consult your doctor before giving a supplement to an infant. If while reading the ingredients list you come across a questionable ingredient, do some research and make sure it’s healthy for your baby to consume it.
Bring your baby to a chiropractor to get checked soon after birth. Ensuring a properly functioning nervous system is essential. Additionally, babies may have sustained physical trauma during birth - whether vaginal or via c-section - that can affect their ability to latch to the breast or find full range of motion in their cervical spine to feed evenly on both sides. A chiropractor can assess your baby for any potential subluxations getting in the way of optimal spinal movement.
Get a pet and let your baby make friends with Fluffy. Infants that live with pets reap the benefits of Fluffy tracking in all kinds of good bacteria. On top of that, infants born to mothers who had pets during pregnancy also have more good bacteria. Exposure to these bacteria during infancy can reduce the risk of being overweight and having allergies, particularly in babies born via c-section.