Whether you’re anxiously awaiting for your baby’s arrival or already have them snuggled up in your arms, chances are you’re combing through all the information you’ve heard and read about how to raise them best. As you're kissing their little toes and enjoying that new baby smell, it’s easy to get swept away by the new baby magic.
So, you might not have considered that your baby isn't the only new member of your family. With your baby comes the beginnings of an ecosystem of microscopic organisms. Colonies of bacteria cover your baby at birth and continue to grow and diversify through breastfeeding, with every kiss, snuggle, and new encounter.
These microbes are establishing new homes on your baby’s tiny body and while this might make you a nervous to hear – it’s actually good news!
You see, every single person has multiple microbiomes throughout their body, which helps keep them healthy. Living in the nose, mouth, skin, and gut each of these ecosystems play important roles and work with the cells of the body.
The gut is the richest source of these microorganisms. They are needed to support a healthy immune system, proper nutrient absorption, digestion, hormone regulation, and they even influence happiness.
Your Baby's Most Important Organ: The Gut Microbiome
It's accurate to imagine the gut microbiome as an organ because it plays so many important roles throughout the body. Because of the gut microbiome’s multi-functionality, it's “an organ” that belongs to many different systems, including:1
Immunological – Immune system
Gastrointestinal – Digestion
Endocrine – Hormones
Neurological – Cognitive function
Bottom line is this: Your baby needs a healthy gut microbiome for a strong immune system, smooth digestion, healthy hormones, as well as brain development and function.
Support Your Baby's Gut Microbiome
During your baby's first few years of life, they're developing their gut microbiome. When they are in the mother's womb, they don't yet have one of their own. Birth is the first time they are exposed to these microbes that will impact their health for a lifetime.
Over the next few years, your baby comes in contact with different microorganisms when they explore their environment. This adds new bacteria to this ecosystem until it becomes stable around the age of 3.2 During this time, it's super important that your baby is able to build a strong microbiome because it helps them later in life.
As a parent, you can set your baby up for success by taking steps before, during, and after they are born.
Before You Get Pregnant
Before you get pregnant, it's a good idea to take the necessary steps to ensure the health of your microbiome since it helps with your metabolism, immune system, digestion and more. As a mom, you pass on your microbes directly to your baby. Because of this, children have gut microbiomes that more so resemble their mother’s than their father’s.3
Since the gut microbiome plays as such an important role in regulating hormones, it's also a good idea to make sure you're supporting your own gut health if your trying to get pregnant.4 This means staying away from damaging foods like sugar, reducing stress levels, and eating the right foods for your gut microbiota to thrive. If you're trying to get pregnant, it's a good idea to take a Viome test so you can have optimal gut health to pass on to your baby.
Pregnancy is a time to take gut health even more seriously. We often use pregnancy as a time to give into cravings and joke that we’re eating for two. But you're not just eating for two, you're actually eating for 40 trillion. Plus, we know that bacteria are capable of influencing cravings. This makes us wonder, is it really you that's craving that chocolate cake or is it your gut microbiome?5
Remember, your gut microbiome is part of the endocrine system – in fact, it’s considered an endocrine system regulator. The crazy hormone cocktails that come with pregnancy and the gut microbiome influence one another on a two-way street.6 Meaning, working to balance your gut microbiome may help your hormones run more smoothly.
Another thing to keep in mind is that vaginal birth has been reported to be more beneficial for building a baby's gut microbiome than C-section. If vaginal birth is not an option, you can still promote the development of a strong microbiome for your baby. Some studies suggest that vaginal swabbing, even though its efficacy is still being evaluated, could be a possible method for establishing the gut microbiome in infants delivered via C-section.7
During the first three years of life, your baby is building their gut microbiome. For a long time, scientists didn't understand why breast milk contained sugars babies were unable to digest. What we've come to find out is those sugars are specifically for feeding certain microbes that help establish a strong microbial colony.7 When and if possible, breastfeed your baby because not only do they get these important sugars, but they get microbes from the nipple and skin-to-skin contact, further contributing to their microbial ecosystem.
Also as your baby grows up, try not to be a germaphobe. We've been taught for most of our lives that bacteria is bad, but this is simply not the case. Good hygiene is important of course, however, going overboard with sanitizers and disinfectants might not be a good idea.
An interesting study found that children in homes without dishwashers were less likely to have allergies.8 This is believed to be because ultra clean dishes prevent exposure to important and necessary bacteria for strengthening the gut microbiome. Squeaky clean isn’t always a good thing!
You can read about how antibacterial cleaning products have even been linked to childhood obesity in our article: Are Antimicrobial Cleaning Products Making Children Fat? New Study Says Yes.
It's also beneficial to the gut microbiome to avoid antibiotics whenever possible during the first few years of life because they disrupt the development of an already unstable young microbiome.9 Obviously, you should use antibiotics if they are necessary, but if they can be avoided it’s for the best.
New parents surround themselves with all sorts of books, advice, and adorable baby gadgets made to make life easier for them and their bundle of joy. But their baby isn’t the only addition to the family, the miraculous gut microbiome has joined too.