With so many new people clamoring to meet baby, it’s natural to worry about him being exposed to germs. But focusing on the external elements is only one part of keeping baby healthy. What’s happening on the inside is also vital—especially when it comes to the gut, which contains both beneficial and harmful microbes, including bacteria. Having too much bad bacteria can cause rippling effects throughout the body with lifelong health implications like asthma, eczema, diabetes or obesity (no pressure, right?). Since the gut affects so many other bodily functions, you should know what alters it, both positively and negatively. Below, key moments during the newborn period when you can start making a difference to baby’s gut bacteria makeup.
When You Give Birth
Babies receive essential nutrients through the placenta during pregnancy, but are born with hardly any bacteria (this is why it takes time for them to develop fully functioning immune systems). It isn’t until you start vaginal delivery that baby begins to ingest and absorb your microbes during the messy birthing process. Delivering via c-section doesn’t mean baby will be completely deprived of this good bacteria though. Regardless of how baby enters the world, engaging in skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth will not only help transfer bacteria to baby, but lead to longer breastfeeding sessions and better respiratory functions as she gets older. Unfortunately, the loss of some beneficial bacteria over generations (like that of the important strain B. infantis) means that this mom/baby transfer does not happen today for many babies.
When You Eat
If you’re breastfeeding, consuming a balanced diet of nutrient-packed ingredients is key to keeping baby’s immune and digestive systems healthy. (It will also make mealtime less challenging when you have a picky toddler on your hands: Kids are more likely to try and enjoy new foods and flavors if you ate them while nursing.) Although there are certain foods you should avoid or limit during breastfeeding (like alcohol, caffeine and high-mercury fish), there’s no need to eliminate common allergens like dairy, gluten and nuts from your diet unless your child develops a noticeable allergy or sensitivity to them. (In fact, if you ate nuts while pregnant, baby’s even less likely to experience these allergies.)
When Baby Eats
It’s no secret breast milk boasts major benefits for baby, but you may not have realized the impact it has on baby’s gut. “In addition to providing antibodies directly to baby, breastfeeding serves to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, while limiting the growth of potentially harmful bacteria,” says Tracy Shafizadeh, PhD, a scientist with Evivo™, who studies the relationship between human milk and infant gut microbes. One of these types of good bacteria, B. infantis, works with breast milk to develop baby’s immune system, which is one of the reasons doctors encourage you to breastfeed soon after delivery. However, an ongoing study shows that babies may no longer have this good bacteria in their gut. Shafizadeh suggests restoring B. infantis to the gut with a baby probiotic like Evivo, which is made with an activated form of B. infantis and is taken once daily with a small amount of breast milk. “It’s a great way to ensure that this important bacteria is present in baby’s intestine,” she says.
When Baby Poops
Your newborn won’t end up in a blissful “milk drunk” state after every feed, especially in the first two months while he’s still learning how fast or slow to eat, and his immature digestive system is getting used to processing your diet. Uncomfortable gas pain is often a by-product of the air he takes in while eating, which then interacts with the newly acquired gut bacteria in his intestines. This is why baby’s microbe makeup is so crucial—the more balanced it is, the more effective his digestive track will be. And if you need another reason to keep baby’s gut bacteria in check, it can help with diaper duty too. “Clinical trials indicate that when babies have the B. infantis in their gut, their bodies can utilize more of the nutrients in breast milk, protecting their gut and reducing the number of poops in half with no increase in constipation,” Shafizadeh says.
The Bump and Evivo present Gut Instinct, a sponsored series about the importance of the baby gut microbiome in creating a foundation for lifelong health. Visit Evivo.com to learn more about the benefits of their unique probiotic powder for breastfed infants.