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Getting a Good Gut

The Gut-Brain Connection

The first few years of baby’s life are crucial for their developing brain and gut microbiome.

Good nutrition provides essential nutrients for their rapidly growing brain. It also creates a healthy, diverse gut microbiome, both of which are important for long-term brain health.

The gut-brain connection

The gut and brain communicate with each other through a complex system known as the gut-brain axis.

The brain and gut are connected by the vagus nerve. This long nerve runs from the bottom of the brain to the gut and creates a pathway for messages to travel back and forth.

The brain and gut also communicate with each other via chemicals called neurotransmitters, made by both the gut microbiome and brain.

Because of this connection, the health of the microbiome can influence brain health and development. A healthy, diverse microbiome sends ‘good’ signals to the brain and can improve long-term cognitive abilities, motor skills, behavior, and emotions.  An unbalanced microbiome sends the wrong types of messages to the brain.

Hormones and the immune system also play a role in gut-brain conversations and can be influenced by the microbiome.

Brain growth

At birth, baby’s brain is about one quarter the size of yours. During the first 1,000 days of life, the brain grows faster than at any other time, reaching 80% of its full-grown size by age three.

A nutrient-dense diet supports the developing brain, and good nutrition improves the health and diversity of the gut microbiome. This has a knock-on effect for brain development through the gut-brain axis.

Moms and dads play a big role in baby’s brain development. Even before pregnancy, eating a diet packed with probiotic and prebiotic foods, e.g. plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and fermented foods (yoghurt) can improve a microbiome. 

Baby’s early microbiome is influenced by moms, so a microbiome full of the good guys will give baby a good start while they’re developing their own microbiome. Baby’s physical environment also impacts on their microbiome so a healthy diet and lifestyle for everyone in the family benefits all.

Brain food

A baby’s brain uses two-thirds of the calories their body gets from food, so make sure those calories are packed full of nutrients.

If it works for mom and bub, breastfeeding is best. Breast milk contains all the nutrients a baby needs for about the first 4­–6 months and it helps the good bacteria Bifidobacterium to become strong and flourish in the gut.

Once baby is ready to move on to solids, nutrients for good brain development include:

    • Protein, from lean meat, chicken, beans, peas and soy products. Protein helps the body build and repair muscles and tissues.
    • Iron, from red meat, green, leafy vegetables, tofu, and lentils. Iron is needed to help carry oxygen around the body. Animal products contain heme iron which is absorbed and used by baby more than non-heme iron found in non-animal products. Include a range of iron-rich food but remember animal sources are better.
    • Choline, from animal products including meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy. Choline is important for the production of neurotransmitters needed for good brain function.
    • Healthy fats, from fish, avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, and bone broth. Healthy fats help baby to absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K and provides energy for growth.

Introducing baby to a wide range of vegetables, fruits, grains, and dairy products at age-appropriate stages supports a healthy microbiome and gives little ones a great start in life.

Disclaimer: The information provided is the opinion of Good Feeding, it has not been evaluated by healthcare professionals, and is for educational purposes only.  Before starting any new foods or feeding practices, please consult your baby's healthcare professional.

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  • You provide, let baby decide. You provide what foods are on offer, and baby decides when they have had enough
  • Keep mealtimes happy and stress free
  • Remove unnecessary distractions such as TV or devices
  • Ensure baby is sitting comfortably and facing other family members
  • Role model healthy eating at every opportunity.
  • Respond to hunger and fullness cues and leave behind expectations of how much you want baby to eat. 
  • Feed slowly, encouraging baby to eat and never resorting to bribery
  • Avoid unhealthy foods you know baby will eat to ensure they ‘just eats something’
  • Only offer food for hunger and not for any other reason

Disclaimer: The information provided is the opinion of Good Feeding, it has not been evaluated by healthcare professionals, and is for educational purposes only. Before starting any new foods or feeding practices, please consult your baby's healthcare professional.

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  1. Pack in those veggies when you’re pregnant and breastfeeding

    Baby’s flavour journey begins in the womb surrounded by your amniotic fluid. Breastfeed if possible to continue the flavour journey through your breast milk.

  2. Begin Flavor training at around 4-5 months

    Flavor training starts before baby needs solids for nutrition. A ‘taste’, 1/2 teaspoon, is all that is required, after a milk feed.

  3. Vary your Veggies

    • Introduce a wide variety of vegetables spanning the whole flavor spectrum. Being sure to include plenty of bitter vegetables (broccoli, spinach, brussels sprouts).
    • Try offering a new ‘taste’ every 1-2 days In all different forms (warm, cold, puree and after 6 months as finger foods)
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    Offer single vegetables where possible, especially in the first few months of flavor training. Avoid hiding ‘unliked’ foods in ‘liked’ foods.

  5. Repetition, repetition, repetition

    If baby doesn’t like it the first time offer again and again. It can take up to 10 times before acceptance. Don’t be put off by funny faces baby is just getting used to something new. Continue to offer again and again, throughout infancy, toddlerhood and the preschool years

  6. Be a healthy eating role model

    Be a positive role model at all ages and stages, show baby just how delicious those veggies are. Avoid allowing your own likes or dislikes, wants and expectations get in the way.

Disclaimer: The information provided is the opinion of Good Feeding, it has not been evaluated by healthcare professionals, and is for educational purposes only. Before starting any new foods or feeding practices, please consult your baby's healthcare professional.

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