Here's How You Can Help Your Baby Develop a Healthy Gut
Learn how you can build your baby’s healthy gut by supporting his gut microbiota during key periods of early development.
Unknown to many parents, your child’s gut plays a crucial role in his total well being. The gut performs crucial functions such as helping to digest and absorb the right nutrients for overall growth and development, supporting the natural defences to function properly and influencing day-to-day mood.
Your child’s gut health depends on the presence of good gut microbiota. The gut microbiota refers to the micro-organisms that live in the gut and these micro-organisms are responsible for supporting the gut in performing its three key functions listed above.
Babies are born with a sterile digestive system since they don’t need any gut bacteria while they are in utero. The gut microbiota, therefore, starts to develop as soon as a child is born.
As your baby grows, his gut and gut microbiota will grow together. Helping to create the right balance of good bacteria will support his health and well-being for the rest of his life. Let’s explore each step of the development of gut microbiota, and see how we can keep it healthy:
1. Birth: A natural delivery allows your baby to come into contact with the colonies of healthy bacteria present in the birth canal and the vaginal fluids. These friendly bacteria make their way into the baby’s gut to lay the foundations of his gut microbiota. Caesarian-born babies are exposed to fewer bacteria from the mum, resulting in less diverse gut microbiota at birth.
2. Breastfeeding: Exclusively breastfeeding your baby for the first six months does a lot to help him build a healthy gut – it is well researched that the type of milk that your baby consumes in the first few weeks of his life can have a big impact on the composition of his gut microbiota21,22. Breast milk not only contains friendly bacteria but is also very rich in prebiotics which further nurtures the growth of friendly bacteria.
During breastfeeding, your baby also comes into contact with your skin. Friendly bacteria from your skin get transferred onto your baby, adding to the diversity of his gut microbiota25.
3. Weaning: This is a major transition period for the development of your baby’s gut, as well as his gut microbiota. As new food and textures are introduced into his diet, new types of bacteria will also be introduced, changing the whole balance in his gut26. Do give your baby a balanced diet which can include food like cereals, fruits and vegetables. These foods have dietary fibres and serve as prebiotics to increase the growth and activity of friendly bacteria in the gut.
However, not all prebiotics are the same, so choose with care. Scientific research has shown that a 9:1 GOS/IcFOS+ prebiotics blend promotes a healthy gut bacteria profile and supports the body’s natural defences10
It is also at the time of weaning that a baby’s gut learns to differentiate between harmful and beneficial food – if a certain food is introduced too early, it can confuse the developing gut and result in allergies, where the gut is reacting against what would otherwise be safe substances.
4. Diet and environmental changes: As your baby grows, you need to ensure that he eats a wide variety of food to get all the nutrition needed for growth. His gut microbiota could be impacted by new environmental factors, such as visiting new places and getting exposed to new bacteria or consuming a course of antibiotics during times of illness. To help him cope, you can add more probiotics into his diet. All these changes are a normal part of life and with time, the gut microbiota will be able to regain its healthy, balanced diversity.
Why the first 1,000 days matter
Your baby’s gut is immature during infancy. The right nutrition in the first 1000 days (from conception to two years) is critical to facilitate the natural maturation of the gut. Nutrition during the first 1000 days not only impacts baby’s short term health but it also profoundly impacts long-term health.
Gut problems during infancy may lead to gut disorders27, to behaviour challenges28, to allergies 21, to diabetes and obesity29 and to generally a lower quality30 of life later on.
It is important to encourage the growth of friendly bacteria in your baby’s gut. That way, they can continue helping the gut maintain your baby’s overall health and well-being31.
Nurturing a healthy gut in your children from the very beginning can help ensure their long term health.
Click here for the scientific references on gut health.