Did you know your digestive tract is the home to your immune system? Filled with trillions of microbes, the gut may be the key to health and wellness. Any imbalance or overgrowth of the wrong types of bacteria can lead to acute and chronic illness.
For your baby’s developing immune system, breastfeeding is one of the best things you can do to ensure normal colonization of the gut. But what else might influence your baby’s developing microbiome? (microbiome = the collection of microorganisms that make up the human body) Researchers think that cultural influences such as maternal diet, along with genetics, environment, and breastfeeding practices may lay the groundwork for long-lasting infant health or illness.
- Birth itself changes a baby’s gut – babies born by cesarean surgery are colonized with different bacteria than those who are born vaginally. And an elective cesarean is different than an emergent cesarean where a woman has had the chance to labor first.
- Babies born early have different bacteria in the gut than those who are born at term.
- Antibiotic use – whether by mom during labor, birth or breastfeeding, or by baby after birth – can negatively impact healthy gut bacteria.
- Maternal obesity has the potential to impact infant health by initiating changes in babies’ guts that differ from babies of normal weight mothers.
Human milk may even be considered a microbiome of it’s own – with over 600 species of bacteria, as well as sugars that nourish beneficial gut bacteria. The microbes present in human milk are distinct from skin and saliva, and breastfed babies have different gut colonization than their formula fed counterparts. The bacteria types in milk are different from woman to woman and change over the course of lactation. These adaptations set the milieu for infant health.
Many adults rely in probiotics – anything that contains live micro-organisms that confer health benefits – to keep the gastrointestinal tract (and, therefore, the immune system) in balance. Interestingly, a breastfeeding baby may benefit if mom takes probiotics. Probiotics given to mom may lessen baby’s risk of eczema, colic, reflux, thrush, diarrhea, and constipation.
You may choose to take a probiotic dietary supplement, or you may want to increase the fermented foods you eat to increase the beneficial bacteria in your own gut which you can pass along to your nursling. Consider adding these foods to your diet for their probiotic properties:
- miso soup
- kombucha tea
- soft cheeses
- acidopholus milk
The human and breastmilk microbiomes are exciting, emerging fields of study. In fact, researchers are now looking at whether human milk itself might be considered the prototypical probiotic. Oligosaccharides in human milk seem to be ‘prebiotic’ and encourage the growth of helpful gut bacteria. We’ve all heard ‘breast is best’ – and now we’ve got even more reasons to believe so!
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