How To Support Your Baby’s Gut Health
Written by Vanessa McNamara, The Travelling Dietitian.
According to extensive research, the first 1000 days of an infant’s life – from conception through to 2 years of age – is a crucial period in which we can help to shape our baby’s gut microbiome, brain development and future health.
We have always known the first 1000 days is an important time for development - did you know that the most rapid periods of brain growth are in the last trimester of pregnancy and the first two years of life? Researchers have now discovered, however, that what happens in the womb and throughout the first two years of life has a profound impact on a variety of health outcomes over the course of a lifetime. While your baby is starting to smile, learning to crawl and taking their first steps, their gut is also hard at work developing their gut microbiota that will set them up for a lifetime of good gut health.
This research also emphasises that the health of both the mother and father prior to conception is extremely important and can affect the integrity of the embryo right from the beginning.
What is the microbiome?
Our ‘gut microbiome’ is made up of the trillions of microorganisms and their genetic material that lives in our gastrointestinal tract. Your microbiome is like a bacterial fingerprint, specific to you.
These bacteria offer the body a range of health benefits including digestion, metabolism, immune function and brain health. Several recent scientific studies have shown that a healthy gut microbiome is associated with reduced chronic disease risk, allergies and mental illness. Basically, your child’s gut health is directly connected to their overall wellbeing – and it all starts in utero and infanthood.
How can you positively impact your baby’s gut?
- Deliver vaginally (if possible)
Research has shown that babies born vaginally have different gut bacteria than those delivered by caesarean. Researchers also discovered that the microbiome in vaginally-delivered new-borns comes from their mother’s gut, rather than the vaginal bacteria, indicating the benefits of eating a healthy, balanced diet during pregnancy.
We do know, however, that this difference in bacteria can often even out by the time babies turn 1, and that natural births are not always an option. If this is the case for you, not to worry, there are plenty of other ways you can impact your baby’s gut health.
- Breastfeed your baby (if possible)
Breastfeeding shapes the gut microbiota in early life, by exposing the baby to both the beneficial bacteria in breastmilk as well as milk factors that can influence bacterial growth. It’s estimated that about 15% of the nutrients in breastmilk are made up of components called human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs). These HMOs are not digestible by the baby but feed the good bacteria in a baby’s gut, acting like a prebiotic, or food for the bugs.
We understand, however, that breastfeeding is not always possible. If this is the case for you, not to worry, there are other ways you can impact your baby’s gut health.
- Introduce a variety of foods into yours and your baby’s diet as early as possible
- By introducing a variety of vitamins, minerals and gut-boosting plant foods into yours and your baby’s diet, you will set them on the path to good gut health. For parents, this should start for both Mum and Dad when you are trying to conceive and should ideally continue throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding so you can pass on as many healthy bacteria to your growing baby as possible.
- Start solids at around 6 months (read more about introducing solids here – https://taleii.com/blogs/baby/introducing-solids-when-what-and-how ) and expose your child to a variety of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes to ensure that their developing microbiome is well-nourished. The wider the variety early on in their feeding journey, the more beneficial this will be for the gut.
- Also try to include some prebiotics as some of your baby’s first foods, as these will feed the good bacteria to help them thrive in your baby’s gut. Some age-appropriate foods that contain prebiotics are:
Vegetables: sweetcorn, asparagus, snow peas, green peas, leek, onion
Fruit: bananas, watermelon, apples, nectarines, white peaches, dates
Grains: oats, bran muffins, rye crackers, wholewheat bread
Legumes: chickpeas, lentils, baked beans
- A diverse gut microbiome has been shown to decrease the risk of developing some food allergies.Try to introduce all common allergy-causing foods to your infant before they turn 12 months. Read more here about introducing allergens on how, what and when to give your baby allergenic foods - https://taleii.com/blogs/baby/how-to-introduce-allergens-to-your-infant
- Let them get dirty
Letting your child play outside, in the dirt, in new environments and even with pets, exposes them to a variety of microbes. Not only are they enjoying themselves, they are also building a more diverse and robust microbiome and immune system.
Let them put their hands in their mouth and smear food on their face. Let them play with your pet. Let them eat food that’s fallen on the floor (within reason, of course). And try not to stress about cleaning their toys too often. A little dirt goes a long way!
Taleii’s Top Tip:
Taleii’s pouches contain a wide variety of plant-based ingredients to ensure your baby is being exposed to not only different flavours, but also a whole spectrum of nutrients that will boost their gut health. Try them all to keep your baby’s gut happy and healthy.