While in your womb your baby's gut is sterile, meaning there is no bacteria populating their gut. It is during vaginal birth that your baby is exposed to the first forms of bacteria that will take up residence in their gut. Since lactobacillus acidophilus is what primarily inhabits the vagina, this will most likely be the first gut bug that help your baby begin developing a healthy immune system. Yes, that is correct. The bacteria your baby acquires while passing through your vaginal canal will help your baby create a strong immune system.
What about babies born by C-section?
Unfortunately, babies born via C-section are not exposed to the same bacteria or flora found in the vaginal canal. Instead, their first exposure is with the bacteria commonly found in hospitals, like staphylococcus. Cesarean deliveries have been associated with increased incidences of intestinal disorders and allergies later in life.
Despite the difference in microflora, it is important to remember that a necessary c-section is in the best interest in the infant's life and steps can be taken to populate the gut with bacteria strains that are found in vaginally delivered infants.
Breast feeding provides baby with another opportunity to create healthy gut flora. The sugars that are found in breast milk are perfect for fostering the growth of good bacteria. There is also evidence that infants of mothers who took probiotics during their pregnancy and while breast feeding were protected from developing atopic eczema.
What are the benefits of supplementing with probiotics?
Initially your infant's immune system is immature and is more apt to develop an allergic response to foods and their environment. Probiotics not only help the immune system develop appropriate responses to what your baby encounters, but also helps regulate the amount of allergic inflammation. There are promising studies showing a decrease in the rate of allergies, asthma and eczema in infants who are given probiotics.
Furthermore, they serve as part of a natural defense to help prevent and treat illness in the gut. Probiotics have been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of acute diarrhea due to infections such as rotavirus.
In infants who were delivered via C-section, there is a difference in the normal bacteria flora as compared to those who were born vaginally that can be observed up to 7 years in age. Supplementing with probiotics, especially Bacteroides fragilis, has been shown to improve immune system development in infants.
How should I start probiotics with my baby?
It is important to meet with your healthcare provider to discuss what is most appropriate for your situation. They can also help guide you in selecting the best type of probiotics. The quality of probiotics is very important as some may not contain any live strains (and you do want live) and other companies may not perform adequate quality control and could be contaminated. The dosing should also be tailored to the individual and consider whether there is a family history of allergies or gastrointestinal disorders, as well as considering the current health of both mom and baby.
Foods That Contain Probiotics
These are not foods that you should be feeding a newborn, but rather some considerations for adults and older children.
Kefir- cultured dairy beverage
Kimchi- fermented cabbage
If you'd like more information regarding Naturopathic approaches to infant and mother care, please contact Dr. Jolene Brighten for a complimentary consultation.