Colonizing Your Baby’s Gut for a Healthy Microbiome

From the moment a woman becomes pregnant, she is bombarded with a tremendous amount of information: what to eat, vitamins to take, birthing plans, and the various methods for caring for her newborn after the birth. This information, while important, can prove to be overwhelming because there are so many books and philosophies about birth and newborn care, not to mention the opinions of everyone around her.

But as a mother-to-be, the primary goal is having a healthy baby. For many women, breastfeeding once the baby is born is the first choice for baby’s nutritional needs. The benefits of breastfeeding are many: boosting immunity, bonding between mother and child, and providing the most natural and healthy nutrition. In addition to that, we can add building a healthy gut microbiome. Breastfeeding provides a natural dose of healthy gut bacteria, which helps the baby build his or her own unique system.

The normal microbiome, the colony of bacteria that live in the digestive system, is a very specialized system made up of approximately 100 trillion microorganisms, representing between 500 and 3,000 different species and nearly 5 million unique genes. The health of the bacterial flora within our digestive system, the microbiome, has an overwhelming impact on the body’s functioning and health.

The bacteria living in the gut are responsible for many processes, like regulating metabolism, which influences nutrient supply, energy balance, and body weight. The gut microbiota is also a critical factor for the proper development of the immune system, which contributes to reducing infections and irregular immune responses – all true for the newborn infant as well.

The newborn child’s first introduction to bacterial colonization occurs at birth. When a baby is born naturally via the birth canal, he is instantly colonized by trillions of maternal vaginal, intestinal, skin, and milk microorganisms. The bacteria of the skin, mouth, and nose of a naturally delivered baby are similar to the mother’s vaginal microbiota. On the other hand, Caesarean section (C-section) infants have bacterial communities similar to their mother’s skin microbiota.

Over a short period of time, the baby develops its first gut microbiome, which is largely comprised of mom’s vaginal and intestinal organisms. The first steps in immune system development take place at the same time the microbiota is developing. Just after birth, the newborn gut bacteria begin to stimulate the production of white blood cells and antibodies directed at unwelcome, disease-causing microorganisms. The bacteria of the microbiota also teach the newborn’s immune system to recognize the difference between good and bad bacteria.

Breastfeeding a baby magnifies this development. Breast milk is full of probiotics that continue to establish a baby’s immune system and seed the gut’s flora. Human milk contains a special sugar, human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), that feeds Bifidobacterium infantis. This specific bacterial strain is responsible for brain development, folate production, and development of the gut barrier.

All of this being said, breastfeeding is not easy nor is it always an option for mothers. Even when the intention is to breastfeed, sometimes conditions after a birth make it difficult or impossible to do so. Breastfeeding, the most natural and beneficial way to feed a baby, doesn’t always come naturally, making this a stressful and difficult time for a new mother. The hormone drop after giving birth is dramatic, to say the least, and not being able to beast feed can be heart-wrenching. But, if or when the inability to breastfeed occurs, there are still ways to support a newborn’s gut development.

Skin-to-skin contact and physical attachment is the first step. Keeping baby close and giving lots of kisses is a surefire way to continue the transference of mom’s good bacteria. There are also many infant probiotic powders available that can be either added to formula or placed on the baby’s tongue. Lastly, go easy on the baths in the first few weeks and months, and when you do, opt for extremely gentle and organic washes.

Mothering is a balance. In a world of information overload, it can be confusing which road to take. Do your best everyday to rest and take each moment as it comes.

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