The state of our gut health impacts all aspects of our well-being. The balance of microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, and fungi living in our digestive tract is vital for our physical, mental, and immune health. These live organisms are our gut flora or gut microbiome. When the balance is disrupted, we can experience a variety of symptoms and illnesses.
We inherit our microbiome from our mother who inherited her microbiome from her mother as it is passed from generation to generation. How we are born, our environment, and how we are fed as a baby all influence early gut health.
Babies who are born via cesarean section have different gut bacteria than babies who are born vaginally. There was a large-scale study done in the UK of 596 babies analyzing gut microbiota samples by looking at fecal samples of the babies at age 4, 7, and 21 days old. 314 of the babies were born vaginally and 282 were born via cesarean section.(2) They found that the babies born vaginally had gut bacteria from their mother’s gut and not from their vagina. Babies born via cesarean section had gut bacteria that seemed to come from the hospital environment. Another consideration is the routine use of antibiotics during a cesarean birth. This can also play a part in the composition of the microbiome.
As the babies in the study got older, the differences seemed to have mostly disappeared in the two groups except for commensal bacteria Bacteroides which are important for preventing and curing intestinal inflammation.(1) Even at 9 months old, the babies born by cesarean section had little to no Bacteroides even though they had been breastfed for at least 6 months.(3)
After giving birth, the best place for the baby is skin-to-skin with the birthing parent. Here, the seeding of the microbiome continues as the baby is in contact with the parent and begins to seek the chest and breastfeed. Breast milk has a diverse population of bacteria that offer protection to the baby against pathogens that can cause respiratory and gastrointestinal infections early on. The benefits of healthy bacteria passed through breast milk continue into childhood and adulthood, reducing the risks for many chronic diseases.
Breast milk contains oligosaccharides. Oligosaccharides, which are not digestible by the baby, are carbohydrates in breast milk that provide food for the good bacteria like Bifidobacterium which is the primary bacterial strain in the infant.(8) Feeding this important bacteria impacts greater gut diversity later in life. Bifidobacterium helps prevent infections, helps create the infant's immune system, and digests the healthy sugars in breast milk.(4)
Over the past 100 years, it has been shown that there has been a decrease in the amount of Bifidobacterium in the infant's gut. It is thought that the increased use of antibiotics has contributed to this change. If a birthing parent has used antibiotics throughout life, their gut health and their baby’s can be compromised.(7)
Many challenges seen during breastfeeding have their roots in gut health. Healing the gut of the lactating parent improves their health and that of their baby.(5) Eating a nutrient-dense diet and taking probiotics can help reduce inflammation in the body and allow the gut lining to heal. As this happens, symptoms often begin to disappear.
Symptoms of compromised gut health in babies:
- poor growth
- Frequent infections
- skin rashes or eczema
- food intolerance
Symptoms of compromised gut health in parents:
- low milk supply
- overactive milk ejection reflex
- insufficient glandular tissue
- postpartum depression
- recurrent plugged ducts
- mastitis and other imbalances(5)
Our immune system is influenced by our environment and our diet. The best way for babies to get probiotics is through breast milk. When the lactating parent takes probiotics like Lacta-Biotic and makes dietary changes to support their gut health, the benefits are passed on to the baby. Improving gut health for the parent leads to a stronger immune system and greater resilience. This comes in handy for all the demands on a parent. Sleep is improved when we have a healthy gut and we feel less foggy and worn out.
Probiotics containing Lactobacillus gasseri, Lactobacillus fermentum, and Lactobacillus salivarius strains are particularly beneficial while breastfeeding. These bacteria will adhere to the intestinal lining leaving no room for dangerous pathogens to live. They help restore balance and prevent illness and allergies in babies.(6) These strains reduce the occurrence of breast dysbiosis and can help resolve mastitis.
Just as prebiotic oligosaccharides feed the probiotic bacteria for the infant, the parent must adopt a diet rich in prebiotic foods to feed the probiotic bacteria in their gut. Breastfeeding parents can benefit from taking probiotics to support lactation as well as eating a nutrient-dense diet containing foods that support healthy gut flora.
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Fermented vegetables
- Real pickles
Other ways to promote gut health:
- Regular exercise
- Reduce stress
- Reduce sugar intake
- Use chemical-free cleaners in your home
- Avoid caffeine
- Eat less meat(9)
- Avoid taking antibiotics unnecessarily
Our gut microbiome affects our daily life and long-term health. A healthy gut protects us from imbalances in our body, reducing inflammation and disease. Bacteria in our gut improve digestion. When our gut is working well, we have 1-3 bowel movements a day that are easy to pass and are not accompanied with symptoms like gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea. Using probiotics and a healthy diet will get everything working smoothly. You will be feeling more energetic and ready for all the things parenthood sends your way.
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