Your infant’s health begins in the gut and before birth
Were you a C-section baby or vaginal birth? Were you breastfed? Did you receive antibiotics as a child?… These are all questions I was taught to ask, but always hated doing so. Why would I potentially instill a sense of guilt surrounding your upbringing when we couldn’t go back and change these factors?
Health Begins In The Gut
The answer I learned over time: because these factors matter. These factors drastically influence the development of your gut microbiome. You’ve likely heard that all health begins in your gut. It’s TRUE. The microbiome within our intestines influences so many aspects of our health — from waste/toxin elimination, to hormone regulation, to neurotransmitter production, to inflammation, to immune system regulation, to skin health, and SO MUCH MORE.
This is why gut issues commonly coincide with other disorders, such as:
- Behavioral disorders
- Hormonal imbalances
- Autoimmune disease
- and the list goes on
The more we learn about gut health, the more we discover how variations in the gastrointestinal environment influence our risk for developing a host of diseases.
So, why these questions in an adult? Surely, gut health changes over time. Gut health absolutely changes over time due to our diet, environment, infections, medications, and eating habits, BUT the majority of the gut microbiome is determined during birth and early childhood. For this reason, I am passionate about helping parents build healthy guts.
Fetal Colonization Begins In Utero
We used to think that the fetal gut was sterile and first colonized during birth. There are now some studies that suggest colonization takes place in utero via microbes in the placental and amniotic fluid; therefore, I strongly urge expecting mothers to be on a good probiotic supplement.
Vaginal Birth vs C-Section
The one thing we know for sure is that the gut microbiomes of children born vaginally differ greatly from those born via c-section, and those microbes derived from the colonization with vaginal fluid are much more health-protective. Unfortunately, not everyone is fortunate enough to have the opportunity to deliver vaginally. In the event that you must deliver via c-section, you now have the option to colonize your baby with vaginal fluid via a swab!
Breast-Fed vs Formula-Fed
Next, we know that the microbiomes of breast-fed infants and formula-fed infants varies significantly. The microbiome of breast-fed infants contains more Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria and fewer potential pathogens than those of formula-fed infants. Again, there are many reasons that may impair a mother’s ability to breastfeed her child. In these cases, supplementing with a good quality infant probiotic containing lactobacilli and bifidobacteria strains is a great option.
Influence of Food
Finally, the gut microbiome changes drastically over the 3-5 years following solid food introduction. As new foods are added, major diversification of species take place. This is a major determining factor of gut health, even in adults. In this regard, there are four major factors to consider:
- Consuming Plenty of Prebiotics: prebiotic foods feed the “good” bacteria and include foods like apples, asparagus, bananas, dandelion greens, onions, garlic, jicama root, Jerusalem artichokes, and chicory root.
- Consuming Plenty of Probiotics: probiotic foods contain good bugs that will help colonize the gut and include foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, tempeh, and miso.
- Minimizing Sugar: Sugar intake feeds the pathogenic bacteria and yeast, therefore, to minimize growth of potentially harmful bugs, it’s advised that sugar (even fruit sugar) is kept at a minimum.
- Eat Organic: There is mounting evidence that pesticides/herbicides — especially glyphosate (brand name Round-Up) — negatively alters the gut microbiome and contributes to leaky gut.
Other factors that influence the microbiome include antibiotic use and infections. I’ll dive into these topics in future postings, as these cases often require further treatment beyond lifestyle factors to restore a happy healthy gut environment.