The gut microbiome is malleable until approximately three years of age, when it stabilizes and more closely resembles an adult microbiome. (1) Research has shown that nurturing your baby’s microbiome in these first years may present a particularly important opportunity to ensure improved lifelong health for your bub. (1) Here are some tips to promote a healthy gut for your baby.
Breastfeed, or find a good quality formula
Aim to breastfeed exclusively for around 6 months, as recommended by the World Health Organisation. (2) Human breast milk has the ability to educate your bub’s immune system to defend itself against potential pathogens and antigens. (2) Once weaned, toddler milk enriched with GOS (galacto-oligosaccharides) has been shown to promote a microbiome dominated by Bifidobacterium, just like breastfed babies. (2) Many recent studies have shown that an infant microbiome rich in Bifidobacterium has been associated with lifelong health benefits such as protection against obesity, allergies, metabolic diseases, and gastrointestinal disease. (2)
Probiotics and Prebiotics
Prebiotic, probiotic or synbiotic supplements can improve your child’s health outcomes, and maintain a healthy gut. (3) In fact, there is even some evidence that using probiotic supplements during pregnancy can improve health in the infant after birth. (4) Studies have found that supplementing with a synbiotic mixture of L. rhamnosus 19070-2, L. reuteri and a small amount of the prebiotic FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides) in breastfed infants with colic resulted in a significant reduction in crying time. (4) Infants suffering from asthma who were given a Lactobacillus supplement were found to experience an improvement in asthmatic symptoms. (4) Further studies have shown that supplementation with probiotics BB-02, TH-4, and BB-12 in preterm infants resulted in an abundance of Bifidobacterium in the gut, therefore more closely resembling the gut of a fully-grown infant. (5) Increased Bifidobacterium in the gut has also been associated with reduced risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), and may also help with weight gain, decrease intestinal permeability, and reduce the abundance of potentially pathogenic bacteria. (5)
Introducing solids into bub’s diet alters the gut microbiome composition to closely resemble that of an adult. (1) This microbiome composition will, however, remain highly impressionable until about three years of age, when it tends to stabilize. (1) This means that diet may have a disproportionately large influence on lifetime microbiome composition and its associated health outcomes. (1) Introducing a Mediterranean-style diet to your baby, dominated by vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and even ground nuts and seeds, is an excellent start. These foods are high in dietary fibre, polyphenols and polysaccharides and will stimulate the growth of good bacteria in the gut, whilst helping to prevent colonization of pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria. (3)
Make it Organic
Although research surrounding the impact of inorganic versus organic produce on the human gut microbiome is still in its infancy, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that choosing organic produce will give your child’s gut microbes the best chance to thrive. (6) Consumption of organic food reduces exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria, as well as lower levels of toxic metabolites, synthetic fertilisers and pesticide residues. (6) Organic fruit and vegetables also have higher antioxidant concentrations, particularly polyphenols, the plant chemicals that are much-loved by the gut microbes. (6)
- Mohammadkhah AI, Simpson EB, Patterson SG, Ferguson JF. Development of the Gut Microbiome in Children, and Lifetime Implications for Obesity and Cardiometabolic Disease. Children (Basel). 2018 Nov 27;5(12):160. doi: 10.3390/children5120160. PMID: 30486462; PMCID: PMC6306821.
- Civardi E, Garofoli F, Longo S, Mongini ME, Grenci B, Mazzucchelli I, et al. Safety, growth, and support to healthy gut microbiota by an infant formula enriched with functional compounds. Clinical Nutrition [Internet]. 2017 Feb 1 [cited 2020 May 30];36(1):238–45. Available from: https://search.ebscohost.com/
- Zhou X, Du L, Shi R, Chen Z, Zhou Y, Li Z. Early-life food nutrition, microbiota maturation and immune development shape life-long health. Critical Reviews in Food Science & Nutrition [Internet]. 2019 Jul 16 [cited 2020 Jun 1];59:S30. Available from: https://search.ebscohost.com/
- Vandenplas Y, Savino F. Probiotics and Prebiotics in Pediatrics: What Is New? Nutrients. 2019 Feb 19;11(2):431. doi: 10.3390/nu11020431. PMID: 30791429; PMCID: PMC6412752.
- Plummer EL, Bulach DM, Murray GL, Jacobs SE, Tabrizi SN, Garland SM. Gut microbiota of preterm infants supplemented with probiotics: sub-study of the ProPrems trial. BMC microbiology [Internet]. 2018 Nov 13 [cited 2020 May 31];18(1):184. Available from: https://search.ebscohost.com/
- Vigar V, Myers S, Oliver C, Arellano J, Robinson S, Leifert C. A Systematic Review of Organic Versus Conventional Food Consumption: Is There a Measurable Benefit on Human Health? Nutrients [Internet]. 2020 Jan [cited 2020 Jun 1];12(1):7. Available from: https://search.ebscohost.com/