How much do you know about the microbiome?
Did you know your microbiome isn’t just located in your gut? It’s an interconnected ecosystem containing trillions of bacteria and their cells, and it’s all through your body.
What is the microbiome?
The human microbiome is nicknamed the second genome because it’s so significant to our health. It’s the entire population of micro-organisms like bacteria, viruses and yeast that live on and in your body. Many, some trillions of them, live in your gut.
A healthy gut microbiota contains large numbers and many different types of these micro-organisms with each strain doing a different job. They help us absorb nutrients from food, support our immune system, and maintain a healthy gut environment. Bacterial diversity, or having many different types of these bacteria, is a characteristic of a healthy microbiome.
Supporting the microbiome is becoming a new frontier of personalised medicine.
What functions do the microbiome perform in babies?
From the moment of birth, a baby’s gut microbiota has an important job. It helps support the health and function of the baby’s immune system, the digestion and metabolism of food and plays a role in the production of neurotransmitters.
Do vaginal and C-section births affect the microbiome?
We want every baby to be born safely and be fed well, and we’re blessed to live in an age where there are different options to achieve this. That said, we know that the baby’s gut health gets off to the best start through a vaginal birth and breastfeeding.
During a vaginal birth, a baby is exposed to a broad range of maternal vaginal bacteria. A wide variety of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria spread to the baby – and those two bacterial groups are important to the ongoing development of a healthy infant microbiome.
If your baby is born by caesarean, you can stimulate their microbiome by having skin-to-skin contact in the first few minutes after delivery, breastfeeding as soon as possible, delaying their first bath for at least 12 hours.
How does breastfeeding affect microbiome health?
Breastfeeding provides many microbes needed for the maintenance of baby’s gut flora, supporting their immune system and digestion. It is an important opportunity to continue the formation of a healthy microbiome. Breastmilk contains 700 species of healthy bacteria, immune cells, nutrients and prebiotics – all important building blocks to help in the maintenance of your baby’s general well-being.
How does a child’s microbiome continue to develop?
In the early stages of life, after baby has been weaned, the microbiome is mainly affected by diet, environment and antibiotic use.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that when infants were exposed to a wide variety of household bacteria in their first year it supported healthy immune function.
Starting to eat solid foods at the right age increases the diversity of a baby’s gut microbiota. It’s also a great time to establish healthy eating habits to support the microbiome.
The microbiome will be mostly formed by the age of three but is not set in stone – diet, antibiotics and probiotics can continue to modify the microbiome throughout the rest of life.
Life-Space Probiotic Powder for Baby contains 10 strains of beneficial bacteria to help support a healthy microbiome and general wellbeing. Based on scientific evidence, the product also assists the health and function of the immune system and supports digestive and gastrointestinal health.
Can a parent assess their baby's gut health?
If you’re concerned about or notice changes in your baby’s gut health, talk to your doctor, who may order a stool test if they deem it necessary. You can also search for an Integrative GP. These are medical professionals who combine their medical training with some complementary therapies.
Remember, it’s always wise to talk to your baby’s doctor or child health nurse before beginning any new supplements.
Always read the label. Use only as directed. Supplements should not replace a balanced diet.
Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.