As a mother of 3, finding the best ways possible to keep my children healthy is one of my top priorities. This concern all started before my children were even born. What prenatal vitamins should I take, what type of food would I consume, and how much physical activity is the best during pregnancy were only a few of those early questions that ran through my mind when first realizing I was pregnant.
One crucial question that led me to lots of researching was the topic of probiotics. Why are probiotics essential to a baby’s health?
What are Probiotics?
What exactly are probiotics? We hear so much about them and that they are essential, but what exactly are they? Probiotics are microorganisms, the ‘good’ bacteria, naturally found in the lining of the digestive tract where they ensure proper nutrition absorption from foods consumed while fighting off bad bacteria at the same time.
A few other health benefits linked to probiotics are a strong immune system, prevention of eczema and food allergies, as well as improved digestive function. The term ‘probiotics,’ meaning ‘for life,’ may contain a variety of microorganisms. The most common bacteria that belong to these groups of microorganisms are called Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and B. Infantis.
Probiotics are considered ‘good’ bacteria due to their ability to improve one’s health.
To ensure that you’re getting enough probiotics, reach for these probiotic-rich foods. Some examples of these are:
- Yogurt (those with live active cultures)
- Kombucha (those favorite fizzy drinks popping up on the shelves)
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Soft Cheeses
There are also probiotic supplements available when food consumption isn’t an option. Many vitamins even have an added probiotic component. When the digestive system is disrupted, for example, diarrhea, consumption of probiotics will aid in the recovery process. This all sounds great for older children and adults, but how does this apply to a baby? How are probiotics essential to babies? Is there a way we can introduce probiotics to them?
Formation of a Baby’s Microflora
When a baby is born, he/she has to ‘grow’ helpful bacteria to digest food properly. A baby is considered ‘healthy’ when its intestines have the proper balance of microflora, which is both beneficial yeast and good bacteria. Microflora plays an important role in keeping the balance of bacteria, yeast, and viruses. It is a natural “vaccination” of your child and aids in building immunity.
Other than keeping pathogens under control in your baby, microflora also plays an essential role in ensuring the ability to digest milk. This all begins in the womb, preparing the baby for survival once born. Without a balanced microflora present, the baby will have many health issues including difficulties in digestion. This can be seen in the form of gas, colic, and reflux.
Before birth, the baby is beginning to be introduced to bacteria within the mother. The amniotic fluid was once thought to be sterile. It has been found to contain the same bacteria as in the mother’s gut.
During a vaginal birth, the baby is further colonized by bacteria in mom’s birth canal (during a cesarean birth baby is often colonized by mom’s skin). The bacteria that is introduced to your baby is usually not the most beneficial bacteria. Since the introduction of antibiotics as well as a decrease in healthy lifestyles, the ‘good’ bacteria is not at its highest.
The first few hours following birth, the baby will consume its first feeding. This feeding is usually achieved through breastfeeding or bottle feeding. These early feedings are crucial. The baby’s mucosal lining begins to form a protective barrier at this time, and it is within this mucosal layer where the beneficial bacteria and good yeast colonize.
The colonization period is significant and will help set the path for the building up of their immunity as well as the ability to digest foods.
B. Bifidum is one of the first strains of bacteria to colonize the baby’s intestines. It plays an important role in digestion and nutrient absorption. B. Infantis is the most prevalent strain in a baby’s guts, but it does decline as the baby ages. Similar to B. Bifidum, it helps with the baby’s overall health and digestion.
Probiotics and a Healthy Baby
How can we aid a baby’s gut microflora to be healthy and balanced? As mentioned earlier, probiotics are a ‘good’ bacteria that are important in a healthy digestive tract. These same probiotics are essential to the microflora in a baby’s gut.
They are one of the easiest ways to aid and improve a baby’s microflora. A baby who suffers from colic, reflux, gas and other digestion difficulties may benefit from the use of probiotics. The probiotics will help balance the present microflora allowing for the baby’s digestive tract to operate in its full capacity.
Other health risks may not be important right at first from the lack of a healthy gut. Reduced risk of eczema and food allergies has been linked to probiotic use by infants. The ability of a child to maintain a healthy overall weight and a reduced risk of diabetes later in life has also been found to be linked to the use of probiotics.
How do we go about introducing probiotics to our babies after birth? The primary food sources of probiotics listed above are not safe for baby’s to consume due to the immaturity of their digestive tract. There are currently a few options for babies.
- A breastfeeding mother can aid in the introduction of probiotics to her baby’s gut by consuming probiotic supplements or fermented foods.
- Liquid or Powdered Probiotic Supplements: There are many different sources of probiotic supplements specially made for an infant’s consumption. These supplements can be added to the breast milk or formula before feeding. Liquid supplements can be given to the baby without having to be added to breast milk or formula. Probiotic supplements are the best option for baby’s who are too young to consume solid foods.
- Solid foods become an option once a baby has reached that stage of digestion maturity. Safe fermented foods and yogurts can be given once a child has reached the stage of digestion maturity, typically around six months of age.
Start Early with the Probiotics
In conclusion, probiotics not only play an important role in the health of older children and adults but to babies as well. Probiotics are not accessible in food form for babies, but there are liquid and powdered supplements available.
The early use of probiotics will aid in a healthy digestive tract, healthy immune system, and a reduced risk in the later development of diabetes, eczema and food allergies. Overall use of probiotics is essential to a baby’s health.
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