The body’s gut microbiome is pretty fascinating because it plays an important role in how the body digests and processes food, it impacts cognitive function and it regulates the immune system. The composition of the gut microbiome is influenced by many factors from the very moment we’re born. That’s why we’re breaking down why the gut microbiome is important for the healthy development of your baby.
What Is The Microbiome?
Think of your gut as a bustling city. The gut is home to millions of microorganisms known as ‘the microbiome,’ and some of them may play an important role in keeping you healthy. This friendly group of gut bacteria may act as little soldiers, for example, protecting you against pathogens that cause disease and also helping to support your digestive and immune systems. The gut microbiome varies from person to person and is influenced by factors like where you live, what you eat and how you live your life.
The gut microbiome is very important during pregnancy because it supports the absorption of nutrients from the food you eat which nurture the development of the fetus.
New research supports the idea that the baby gut microbiome may start developing a lot earlier than we previously knew. In the past, it was thought that the baby gut microbiome didn’t start developing until after the baby was born. In a 2020 study, Yale scientists discovered bacterial byproducts that suggest that parts of the microbiome start maturing in utero.
It's likely that important bacteria byproducts are transferred from mother to baby in utero by the placenta. Exposure to these bacterial byproducts is an important part of conditioning an infant's immune system to recognize good bacteria. Taking prenatal vitamins early in pregnancy also transfers over to the baby in utero, with b1 and b5 vitamins found in fetal samples.
Supplementing with vitamin D when pregnant and when breastfeeding is also important for a baby’s developing immune system. Vitamin D actually plays a vital role in the health of our immune system and gut microbiome, as well as reduces levels of opportunistic microbes that can make people sick. Recent studies have shown that prenatal vitamin D supplementation is an important factor in developing a healthy baby gut microbiome. Vitamin D supplementation in newborns also has the potential to reduce the levels of bad bacteria in the gut microbiome.
Baby's Gut Microbiome
From the moment they’re born, the presence of beneficial bacteria in your baby’s digestive system is important. Gut bacteria can not only help support the development of the digestive and immune systems, but it may also support their cognitive function. What you eat, your prenatal vitamins, the medications you take and even how you give birth can all shape your baby’s microbiome. Vaginal births expose an infant to an array of mom’s bacteria as they pass through the birth canal. C-section babies do not get the same exposure.
Since it takes about three years for your baby’s gut microbiome to have the composition of an adult gut microbiome, supporting a healthy microbiome during the first three years of life can help to set the stage for a healthy future. Breastfed babies get probiotics and good bacteria naturally from breastmilk but babies drinking formula may need a little more help. There are some infant formulas that are fortified with probiotics and are designed to promote the balance of bacteria in your baby's digestive system and help offset the growth of bad bacteria in the gut that can cause problems. These can help introduce more "friendly" bacteria to your baby's gut microbiome.