There is a lot we can do to improve children’s gut health. Whilst the microbiome (gut flora) is developing we have an opportunity to improve how the immune system works.
Why is gut health important?
Around 70-80% of the immune system is in the gut and more research is always coming out that shows the link to our mental health, behaviours, insulin management and weight as well as links to hormones.
Your baby’s collection of bugs (called a microbiota) is thought to develop in the womb, and more studies are coming out that support this hypothesis. Newborn babies have a complex microbial community within the gut within a few weeks of birth; this tends to fluctuate over the first 3 years of life when it becomes established.
Babies born via a vaginal birth have a more complex bacterial balance, but babies born by c-section gain the same bacterial complexity by 8 weeks of life. A more diverse bacterial mix can take up more room leaving less space for pathogens. Research is still in progress around whether the immune system is altered within this period of time and what we can do about it.
If one of the risk factors for an altered microbiome are present (born by c-section, formula fed baby, premature or significant time in hospital, early antibiotic treatment) then focusing on the diet and environment are particularly important.
How to help develop healthy gut flora for your children
- Where possible breastfeed your baby for more than 4 months. Babies who were breastfed for more than 4 months show less types of bacteria in the gut.
- Get a pet – Exposure to pets has been associated with reduced risk of atopic diseases like eczema, asthma and hay fever as well as obesity.
- Play with the dirt – children growing up on traditional farms have very low rates of asthma, so exposure to animals and earth can help develop a healthy bacterial mix in the gut. More time outside and in nature can help.
- Wash up by hand! – Allergic diseases are less common than in families who use dishwashers. A small amount of exposure to germs really helps the immune system develop. So you really don’t need to sterilise your baby’s dish and spoon once they start weaning.
Gut Health & Baby Weaning
- Fibre is an essential food for our health bacteria. We need fibre to feed the bacteria which produce Short Chain Fatty Acids – these increase serotonin production which improves our nervous system health and immune health. Add a variety of vegetables to your child’s diet every day. Aim for 5 veg a day.
- Probiotic foods – add sauerkraut or kefir to your diet can help develop your immune health by increasing the beneficial bacteria. Consider a probiotic if not eating any fermented foods. From 6 months babies may take a little kefir (fermented milk or water) or sauerkraut juice in their food.
- Prebiotic foods such as bananas, onions, garlic, asparagus, and leeks help to feed the ‘good’ bacteria in the gut.
- Continuing to breastfeed for up to 2 years if possible to provide the ongoing immune support to your baby.
To find out more about how to support a health start to your child’s life get in touch. Anna offers a free 15 minute consultation to see how nutritional therapy can help you and your family.
Book onto our next Baby Nutrition & Weaning Class – or organise a private group class for you and friends at home.
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