The first few years of a child’s life are very important, not only for his or her growth and learning but also for the development of his or her microbiome. The human microbiome refers to the 100 trillion or so microorganisms which populate the gastrointestinal tract. This microflora helps children’s and adult’s bodies perform life-sustaining functions such as digestion, metabolism and training the immune system.
The human biome is made up of complex communities of bacteria fungi and viruses, some of which are beneficial and some of which are harmful. These micro-communities inhabit many parts of your body from your skin and mouths to your genitals and intestinal tracts. Some of these bacteria are beneficial, while others, smaller in number can cause disease, particularly if your microbiome gets out of balance. The makeup of your microbiome is very important because it trains your body to recognize helpful from harmful bacteria in your body.
What Are the Benefits of the Microbiome?
The human microbiome has three essential functions:
- Growth and development: Many species of microflora are with you from birth to death and play a large role in growth and development.
- Digestion and metabolism: The microbacteria in your gut are vital for the breakdown and metabolism of food. Without them, your food would be indigestible, and you would not be able to extract the nutrients essential for survival.
- Developing and protecting the immune system: Your microbiome establishes the limits in which your body can identify whether something is beneficial or harmful. It maintains the balance within the communities of microflora and helps keep pathogens to a minimum. When functioning optimally, it also protects your body from attacking itself.
When Does our Microbiome Begin?
Scientists used to believe that an infant’s initial contact with microflora was during the passage from the birth canal or from breast milk (in the case of delivery by Cesarean section). However, recent discoveries show that the human fetal environment is not as sterile as we once thought it was and that neonates get their first introduction to microbacteria in utero, from the placenta and amniotic fluid. This means that it is very important for expectant mothers to maintain a healthy diet throughout their pregnancy. Infants have further exposure to microscopic organisms on the journey through the birth canal and then again from breast milk. As children develop, continued exposure to familial, dietary, and environmental microbacteria will aid in the development of a microbiome that will affect their health for the rest of their lives.
The initial colonization of an infant’s gut is crucial for further development and immunity to disease. The first few weeks of a child’s life represent a vital window for the development of the immune system and the gastrointestinal tract, as well as setting the foundations for the adult microbiome. The type of exposures infants experiences at this time can mean the difference between them developing conditions such as food allergies or intolerance such as lactose intolerance, eczema, obesity, and bowel disorders or not.
Breast milk contains a host of important beneficial bacteria. It also contains special sugars that nourish these vital gut bacteria. The microflora in breast milk comes from the mother’s gut and contains Lactobacillus rhamnosus and various strains of Bifidobacterium. The exact content of breast milk will vary from mother to mother, depending on each woman’s exposure to microbacteria.
Essential Strains of Probiotics for Infants and Their Benefits
Infants are not always born equipped with a healthy microbiome. Many factors can influence this including, their mother’s overall health during pregnancy, whether they were born by C-section or via the birth canal, and whether they were breast fed or not. If the mother does not have a healthy microbiome of if the child was not delivered through the birth canal, then the infant will be deprived of some of the microflora he or she needs most. This can lead to numerous childhood health issues such as colic, eczema, diarrhea and constipation, and ultimately more serious conditions in later life. Probiotic supplements can give children a healthy start to life and will continue to help them through adulthood. Here are some essential probiotic strains for infants:
Bifidobacterium bifidum: This species of Bifidobacterium is one of the most common beneficial bacteria found in the human body. As well as being present in breast milk, it is also found in the stomach, colon, and small intestine. As a supplement, B. bifidum can help strengthen an infant’s digestive and immune systems and reduce the risk of colic.
Bifidobacterium infantis: As it feeds on the sugars in breast milk, B. infantis stimulates the production of produces short-chain fatty acids. These acids prevent the proliferation of harmful bacteria and provide infants with energy. B. infantis also helps with the production of sialic acid, which is important for brain development and cognition.
Lactobacillus reuteri: This probiotic strain can help infants avoid constipation and diarrhea. As the beneficial bacteria aid in the breakdown of food and the absorption of nutrients, they also keep bowel movements regular.
How to Give Probiotics to Infants
Giving a probiotic supplement to your infant or child is as simple as adding a probiotic powder for babies to your infant formula or your child’s drinks or food. It provides a fortified boost of probiotics and is easier to administer than probiotic drops. If you suffered from health problems while you were pregnant, you had to take a course of antibiotics, you had a C-section delivery or you are unable to breast feed, an infant probiotic supplement can ensure that your child begins life with healthy digestive and immune systems and the energy to grow and develop into a healthy adult.
When choosing a probiotic powder for your babies and children, make sure it contains a healthy combination of probiotics strains and that it is gentle enough even for very young children. Support your growing child’s digestive system and immune systems the healthy, natural way with a gentle probiotic powder.