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Healthcare Professionals

Helping baby’s microbiome thrive

So far, over 2,100 microorganisms have been identified as living in and on the human body (Source). When it comes to the gut, almost 400 of these microorganisms inhabit this environment; this diverse and abundant community of microorganisms is referred to as the gut microbiome.

It has three main roles: protective, metabolic and trophic. 

    • Defence against pathogenic organisms
    • Digestion and metabolism of breast milk, colostrum and formula, vitamin synthesis and absorption of compounds
    • Development of the intestinal epithelial cells, and immune regulation and tolerance

These functions have a significant impact on the health of an infant, but also influence the risk of disease an individual faces later in life (Source).

The information below provides a summary of these factors; a ‘toolkit’ a healthcare professional may find useful as a refresher, and source of information to assist parents in their efforts to improve health comes in their offspring. 

How the microbiome develops 

Once considered a complete sterile environment at birth, it is now widely accepted that the journey to developing a comprehensive gut microbiome begins in the uterus. Microbial communities that are present in the amniotic fluid, the umbilical cord and the placenta have all been shown to contribute to the prenatal microbiome (Source). 

After birth, the first 1000 days of life are critical to the development of the microbiome where by the age of three years, the gut environment is completely colonized and immune homeostasis is achieved (Source, Source).  

Multiple factors influence the development of the microbiome and the diversity of the colonies it contains; parturition, exposure to early life antibiotics and feeding patterns all play a role (Source). 

Babies born by vaginal delivery have different gut microbiota to those infants born by cesarean section (Source). It has been questioned whether C-section may disrupt the critical process of mother-to-neonate transmission of critical microorganisms, however, more recent evidence shows that the differences between the two modes of delivery largely disappear by the time the baby is between 6 and 9 months old (Source). 

Another factor that comes into play during parturition is the use of antibiotics. Despite their success in treating bacterial infections, antibiotics have a significant impact on the development of the microbiome. Approximately 50% of women are exposed to antibiotics during parturition, particularly when undergoing a cesarean section, which are transferable to the fetus (Source). Infants exposed to antibiotics in utero show a lowered diversity of gut microbiota (Source). Similarly, use of antibiotics during early life has been associated with higher risk of developing allergic diseases including asthma, atopic dermatitis, eczema, and even type 1 diabetes (Source). 

Once the infant is born, the gut microbiome begins its rapid transformation. Infants who are breastfed have been shown to possess an abundance of Bifidobacteria, which are highly adapted to process milk sugars (Source). While formula and its nutritional contents have developed significantly over the past several decades, there are complexities about breast milk that formula feeding is unable to match, and formula-fed infants have vastly different gut microbiomes than breast-fed infants (Source). 

A healthy microbiome supports baby’s development 

Babies are highly dependent on the colonization of microorganisms to enable optimal immune function and development. The gut microbiome influences T-cell generation and is involved in Th-cell mediated immunity. The critical window of development of the gut microbiome during the first three years of life has been shown to influence the risk of immune-related disease such as food allergies, atopic dermatitis, and asthma (Source). Lower diversity of gut microbiota is associated with microbial translocation from the intestine into the bloodstream, which may play a role in disease etiology (Source, Source). 

Consideration of the gut-brain axis during development is essential; the composition of the gut microbiome, because of its influence on neural pathways and the production of neurotransmitters, has a significant influence on behavior and cognitive function and has been implicated in the development of anxiety and other mood disorders as well as social behaviors (Source). 

During postnatal development, the gut microbiome is also involved in the synthesis and uptake of nutrients, which additionally has an influence on host metabolism and immunity (Source). 

Developing a healthy microbiome for baby

Supporting the gut microbiome in early life may mean the difference between eubiosis in a healthy individual, and dysbiosis in those at risk of disease (Source). 

Shaping of the gut microbiome begins in utero and advice offered to expecting mothers about their role in this development is crucial. Her diet should consist of high-fiber, whole foods, and include a diverse range of fruit, vegetables and lean proteins, along with prebiotic and probiotic foods such as pickled foods, organic yogurt and asparagus, for example. Her weight and whether she is being treated for any health conditions (such as diabetes or atopic dermatitis, for example), have been shown to influence the diversity and composition of the infants microbiome and is a consideration for maternal and fetal health (Source, Source). 

Exclusive breast-feeding for the first 6 months of life has been shown to shape the gut microbiome with greater impact than formula-feeding, and has been associated with a lower risk of allergy-related disease (Source). As an infant moves through childhood, the gut microbiome becomes more stable. It becomes largely influenced by environmental factors as well as food intake. During the introduction of solid foods, the diversity of the diet is an important factor to consider for the continued health of the gut microbiome (Source). 

As research into the gut microbiome progresses, it becomes even more clear as to the importance of its role in health and disease. Parents given the facts and advice from their trusted HCPs are far more likely to make the right decisions to help make their baby’s microbiome thrive.

Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes only and is the view of Good Feeding.  Check with your healthcare professional first if you have any health concerns.

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