The intricate connection between gut health and overall well-being reveals our microbiome's profound impact on our physical, mental, and immune health. Our gut flora, consisting of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi residing in our digestive tract, plays a crucial role in maintaining a balanced state. When this equilibrium is disrupted, a wide range of symptoms and illnesses can arise. As we explore deeper to understand the formation of our microbiome, we find that factors like birth methods, early feeding methods, and environmental influences shape the early gut health of babies.
Birth and the gut microbiome
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 ages 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, not 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 cesarean birth. This can also play a part in the composition of the microbiome.
As the babies in the study got older, the differences 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 mother. Here, the microbiome seeding continues as the baby is in contact with the mom and begins to seek the chest and breastfeed. Breast milk has a diverse population of bacteria that protect 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.
How breast milk influences gut health
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 mom's gut 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:
skin rashes or eczema
Symptoms of compromised gut health in parents:
low milk supply
overactive milk ejection reflex
insufficient glandular tissue
recurrent plugged ducts
mastitis and other imbalances(5)
Prebiotics and probiotics for a healthy gut
Our environment and our diet influence our immune system. The best way for babies to get probiotics is through breast milk. A mother can take probiotics and make dietary changes to support their gut health, and the benefits are passed on to the baby. Improving gut health for the parent leads to a more robust immune system and greater resilience. This comes in handy for all the demands on a new parent. Sleep improves when we have a healthy gut and 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 be helpful in resolving mastitis.
Legendairy Milk’s Lacta-Biotic balances and maintains healthy bacteria in the breast and gut. Studies show preventively taking L.fermentum CECT5716 may help improve breast discomfort and resolve active cases of mammary dysbiosis. Lacta-Biotic supports breast health and comfort during lactation and may help reduce engorgement, nipple pain, and mammary dysbiosis.
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 own gut. Breastfeeding parents can benefit from taking probiotics to support lactation, and eating a nutrient-dense diet promotes healthy gut flora.
Other ways to promote gut health:
Reduce sugar intake
Use chemical-free cleaners in your home
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 works well, we have 1-3 bowel movements a day that are easy to pass and are not accompanied by symptoms like gas, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. Using probiotics and a healthy diet will get everything working smoothly. Your healthy gut improves your baby’s gut health. By improving your gut health, you will feel more energized and ready for everything parenthood sends your way.