Enhance Baby’s Gut Flora for Life-long Health
By: Dr. Lana Asprey, MD
- How mom’s gut health affects baby in utero
- How balanced gut flora keeps your baby’s immune system strong
- What to avoid for a healthy gut
- How to heal your gut to improve your baby’s microbiome
When it comes to protecting your children, it’s likely that building their gut flora isn’t high on your list. You’re busy making sure they don’t swallow marbles, not thinking of their balance of good and bad bacteria.
But healthy gut flora means a strong immune system, both of which are extremely important during the first few years. This is when baby gathers the bacterial blueprint she’ll have for the rest of her life. Read on to find out why baby’s gut microbiome is important and what you can do to support microbial diversity from day one.
How balanced gut flora keeps your baby strong
Each gut microbiome is like a fingerprint; we’re all born with a completely different composition of gut bugs. When it comes to the intricacies of the gut microbiome, researchers have only touched the surface; but we do know a couple of things for sure:
- The more, the better. A decrease in the number of microbial species in your gut can mean changes in your mood and higher susceptibility to illness and infection.
- Most of your immune system resides in your gut. That means as you damage your digestion with processed food, sugar, and stress over the years, your immune system suffers, too.
- Your gut bugs tell you how to feel. Your gut health has a huge impact on your mood and cognitive function.
- Gut microbes help you absorb nutrients. Your microbes help to make and absorb key nutrients like vitamin K and vitamin B-12.
What to avoid for a healthy gut
Over time, the makeup of your gut bacteria can change; sometimes for the worse. Stress, sugar, processed food, and too much alcohol are just a few things that can obliterate healthy gut flora.
- Other gut bug killers include:
- Over the counter drugs like NSAIDs (Advil, Aleve)
- Overuse of antibacterial soaps and gels
- Chlorinated drinking water
- Pesticides and herbicides
- A diet high in starchy carbohydrates
An imbalance of gut bacteria can derail your immune system and make you susceptible to many things, including food intolerance and infections. This imbalance is also linked to:
- Insulin sensitivity
Many of the things that can mess up your kids’ gut microbiome are inevitable. Sometimes you just can’t avoid antibiotics or medications. To keep your little ones strong and healthy, read on for the many things you can do to support your baby’s gut flora, from preconception throughout childhood.
Heal your gut before pregnancy
We’re all born with unique gut flora, but a mother’s microbiome heavily influences the makeup of her baby’s. And there’s some evidence that microbial colonization starts in utero. To support baby’s gut flora, heal your gut as much as possible before conception:
- Adopt the Bulletproof Diet: The Bulletproof Diet is a low-toxin, anti-inflammatory plan that’s perfect for restoring your gut health and your nutrient stores before you get pregnant.
- Eat a variety of foods: Food diversity offers an array of nutrients and different kinds of bacteria to your microbiome.
- Eat prebiotic-rich foods: Prebiotics are fibrous carbs that support good bacteria growth and diversity. It’s like food for your gut bugs. Prebiotics include sweet potatoes, carrots, asparagus, and other starchy veg.
- Limit alcohol consumption: Alcohol kills your gut bacteria — the good ones and the bad. Limit your drinking to keep diversity strong.
- Include probiotics and fermented foods: Take high quality probiotic before you’re pregnant, while pregnant, and during breastfeeding. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, and pickles can also increase microbe diversity, IF the bacterial cultures they were made with agree with you. The only way to tell is to give them a try. Use fermented products made with organic veggies, and with no additives.
Diverse gut flora starts at birth
Your baby’s first introduction to the world has a huge impact on her microbial diversity. Here are a couple of things to add to your birth plan:
- Opt for a vaginal birth, if possible: Your baby’s trip through the birth canal exposes her to vaginal microbes that help to shape her immune system in beneficial ways. Babies born vaginally are less susceptible to conditions like asthma and allergies, including food allergies. Babies born via C-section, on the other hand, have less microbial diversity and are more likely to develop conditions like celiac and Crohn’s disease. Sometimes C-sections are necessary for the safety of mom, baby, or both. Always do what’s best for your health and the health of your family.
- Avoid unnecessary antibiotics: Get really clear with your doctor about what exactly they’re pumping into your veins and giving to your infant. Infants exposed to antibiotics during birth had far less microbial diversity than babies who weren’t. Do not use antibiotics “just in case”
Ways to support baby’s gut flora after birth
Whether you had a vaginal birth from home or a C-section at the hospital, here are just a few ways to support baby’s gut flora after birth:
- Breastfeed, if possible: Baby’s gut flora begins in utero, is heavily influenced by the birthing process, and is truly nurtured during breastfeeding. Breast milk contains baby’s first doses of probiotics to help build a diverse colony of gut bugs and prebiotics to keep those bugs fed and happy.
- If not, opt for sheep or goat-milk formula: Breast milk is the gold standard, but not every mom can breastfeed. In those cases, camel milk is the closest to breast milk. Then sheep and goat milk-based formulas. One study found that babies fed goat milk-based formulas had better microbial diversity than those on cow milk-based ones. Babies fed goat milk-based formula also had fecal matter that more closely resembled that of breastfed babies. Avoid soy-based formulas at all costs. Soy contains anti-nutrients that diminish mineral absorption and unless it’s an organic formula, it will be genetically modified (GMO).
- Put probiotics on nipples when breastfeeding: Babies fed certain strains of probiotics are less irritable and colicky than babies who didn’t get healthy bacteria. You can open a capsule of probiotics, add a couple of drops of filtered water, and smear this paste on your nipples before breastfeeding. This is a safe practice that can boost diversity in your baby’s gut flora. Ask your pediatrician about Bacillus lactis (Bb 12) and S. thermophilus to start. IF your baby is on formula, you can add probiotics to the formula. Please consult your physician for proper doses and strains.
- Take your baby outside: It’s tempting to limit your baby’s exposure to the world. Instead of dousing them with antibacterial hand gel and keeping them inside, take your baby out in public. Exposure to different microbes will benefit their immune system in the long run. Let your kids play with other kids and get dirty. Plus, physical play and time outside in the sun have their own health benefits.
- Easy on the sugar and processed foods: Just like adults, sugar, processed foods, and excess grains can wreak havoc on baby’s gut bugs. Limit your baby’s contact with sugar and processed foods as much as possible, especially during the early years when their tastes are still forming. This is because an excess of sugar leads to fermentation in the gut and this in turn promotes more of the less healthy gut bugs.
- Diversify kids’ diets: Food diversity works the same in children as it does in adults. The more varied the diet, the larger the spectrum of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Read more about the benefits of food diversity.
- Avoid antibiotics when you can: Many of us were raised to throw antibiotics on every ailment, no matter the symptoms. Antibiotics kill both good and bad bugs, and will actually hurt your immune system over time. Leave antibiotics as the last resort, rather than the first line of defense against illness and let your child’s immune system do the work. The majority of illnesses that children succumb to while young are viral, that is caused by viruses. Antibiotics are useless against viruses.
A healthy gut means a healthy baby. Have you tried any of these tips with your children? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!