Let’s talk about gut bacteria, baby.

Photo by Matthew Pilachowski

The world of the gut-brain connection and our gut bacteria is a fascinating one. Our gastrointestinal tract has to both absorb nutrients and act as a barrier against foreign organisms and molecules like microbes and allergens, from the day we are born.

Did you know?

  • 70% of our immune system is in our digestive tract, so when the gut is unhappy, the rest of the body is unhappy
  • The digestive tract is one long tube that runs from the mouth and runs all the way to the anus
  • Stretched out, the gut would cover a surface of 400 square metres
  • We have 100 hundred billion bacteria in our gut – more than cells in our body!
  • There are approximately 400 – 500 species of bacteria in the large intestine and 200 species in the oral cavity
  • Infants have a special need for stimulation of their gut microbiota because they are born with a sterile intestine

There are two categories of gut bacteria:

  1. Innate gut bacteria: This is the gut bacteria that we are born with and helps protect us from the time we come out of our mother’s womb. In the West, certain practices such as Caesarean sections, formula feeding, early introduction of food and early antibiotic usage chip away at this innate gut bacteria and can lead to some problems in the future, such as frequent illness and obesity.
  2. Acquired gut bacteria: This is the Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT) that we start to acquire when we are six months old. GALT is made up of several types of lymphoid tissue that contain immune cells that protect us and are fundamental to our immune system.

Building your child’s gut bacteria with breastfeeding

Breastfeeding and skin to skin contact is the most immediate way of providing your baby with the immune components that help establish and build their gut bacteria, as well as provide protection for their respiratory system and other mucus tissues. Breastfeeding promotes the growth of beneficial lactic acid bacteria in the baby’s gut flora, which are beneficial to the development of the child’s immune system. The antibodies that are transmitted from the mother through the colostrum have been educated by maternal gut microbes and provide a broad range of immediate protection to the baby.

The friendly bacteria in the gut play multiple roles, including secreting natural antibiotics and competitively inhibiting pathogenic microbes. The more varied the species of bacteria in your gut flora, the more protection you and your baby will receive from them. This protection stays with the baby throughout their life.

Building your child’s gut bacteria with food

Once you introduce solid food to your child, it’s important to feed them a nutritious diet, not only to ensure they are receiving the necessary vitamins and minerals to help them grow, but to ensure they continue to be exposed prebiotic and probiotic food that build their gut flora.

Prebiotics are a non-digestible food ingredient that promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines.

Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.

What are good prebiotic and probiotic foods?

Prebiotics – Onions, garlics, banana, leeks and asparagus are a few examples of prebiotic food that you can give to your child, once you’ve established that they are not allergic to any of them.

Probiotics – Fermented foods & drinks like kimchi, sauerkraut & kombucha, coconut kefir and pickles are good options to add into your family’s diet a few times a week. If you’re using store-bought versions of these food and drinks, make sure to read the labels to check for unnecessary extra ingredients like sugar and preservatives.

If you’re formula feeding or want to give your baby’s immune system some extra support, Stephanie at Mama and Baby Love has a great article on how to give probiotics to your baby.

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