How to boost your baby’s gut health
Did you know that your baby’s gut microbiome can help shape their future health? It is pretty amazing! Research has shown that an imbalance in gut bacteria in early life is associated with an increased risk of allergies and may also contribute to the development of obesity, cardiovascular disease and other metabolic conditions later in life. So how can you best support your baby’s gut health?
1. Build a healthy gut microbiome during preconception and pregnancy
The first step in ensuring a healthy gut microbiome for your baby starts during the preconception and pregnancy period. Whilst it was previously thought that maternal microbes were first transferred during childbirth, there is emerging research which suggests that it may actually begin in utero.
To help support your gut microbiome focus on eating a nutrient dense diet with adequate amounts of fibre rich foods such as fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds. We also know that prebiotic fibres in particular help feed our good gut bacteria. Prebiotics are found in a variety of foods including Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, leek, onion, garlic, beetroot, sweetcorn, savoy cabbage, legumes, nectarines, white peaches, persimmon, tamarillo, watermelon, grapefruit, pomegranate, dried dates, dried figs, barley, rye flour, wheat bran, oats, cashews and pistachios. Probiotic rich foods such as yoghurt are also very beneficial to include in your pregnancy diet.
2. Breastfeed for as long as possible
Breastfeeding has so many benefits for your baby including promoting the development and maturation of their gut microbiome and immune function. A large review found that babies who were exclusively breastfeed, especially longer than 2 months from birth had a more stable gut bacteria composition and reduced diarrhoea associated with an imbalance in gut bacteria.
It is recommended that if you can, exclusively breastfeed your baby for the first 6 months, then continue to partially breastfeed whilst introducing solids, and continue up to 2 years of age or beyond. If you are unable to breastfeed you may want to consider choosing a formula with added prebiotics and probiotics to help support your baby’s gut health.
3. Optimal timing of solids introduction
There is a window of opportunity when it comes to introducing solids to your baby. It is important to not start solids too early as your baby’s gut is still maturing, however we also know that delaying solids especially allergen containing foods can actually increase their risk of developing allergies.
Current infant feeding guidelines recommend that solids should be commenced when your baby is ready around 6 months, but not before 4 months of age. When introducing solids it is important to focus on including a wide variety of foods including fibre rich foods to help support optimal gut health.
4. Consider a probiotic supplement
Whilst more research is needed in this area, there has been promising results in regards to probiotics and allergy prevention, in particular eczema in high risk babies. One large review including 17 studies and 4755 children found that infants treated with probiotics had a significantly lower risk of eczema compared to controls. Probiotics may also be beneficial if your baby has had a course of antibiotics.
If you are considering starting a probiotic it is important to speak to your healthcare professional for advice on which probiotic supplement may be most suitable.
5. Have a furry family pet
Several studies have shown that owning a pet may actually help to increase gut microbiome diversity. This relates to the hygiene hypothesis which proposes that limited exposure to infections in early life can actually impair immune system development. One study in particular involving 746 infants found that owning a pet was associated with an increased abundance of two bacteria, Ruminococcus and Oscillospira. These bacteria have been associated with a lower risk of childhood allergy and obesity.
If you would like more personalised support to improve your baby’s gut and to feel more confident in managing any gut issues in your baby please get in touch.