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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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