Whether you’re anxiously awaiting 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 newborn baby magic.
You may 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 plays important roles and works with the cells of the body.
The gut is the most abundant 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 vital 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 get 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 three.2 During this time, it's important that your baby can build a healthy microbiome as 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 essential role in regulating hormones, it's also a good idea to make sure you're supporting your own gut health if you are trying to get pregnant.4 Stay away from damaging foods like sugar, reduce stress levels, and eat the right foods for your gut microbiota to thrive. Taking the Viome Gut Intelligence will assist you in making food choices that boost and maintain 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 in to cravings and joke that we’re eating for two. But you're not just eating for two. You're eating for 40 trillion. Plus, we know that bacteria are capable of influencing cravings. This makes us wonder, is it 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 imbalances and surges that come with pregnancy influence the gut microbiome. In turn, the microbiome can affect hormone levels as well.6 Meaning, working to balance your gut microbiome may help your hormones run more smoothly.
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 delivery is not an option, you can still promote the development of a hearty 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. We've come to understand those sugars are specifically for feeding certain microbes that help establish a strong microbial colony.7 When and if possible, breastfeed your baby. Not only do they get these crucial sugars but they assimilate microbes from the nipple and skin-to-skin contact, further contributing to their microbial ecosystem.
As your baby grows up, try not to be a germaphobe. We've been taught for most of our lives that normally occurring bacteria are harmful, but this is not the case. Good hygiene is important of course; however, going overboard with sanitizers and disinfectants might not be a good idea.
A recent study found that children in homes without dishwashers were less likely to have allergies.8 Dishes thoroughly cleaned in a dishwasher can prevent children's exposure to necessary bacteria for strengthening the gut microbiome. Squeaky clean isn’t always a good thing!
You can read about how antibacterial cleaning products are even 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 Of course, you should use antibiotics if they are necessary, but it's better to avoid them where possible.
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 new addition; the miraculous gut microbiome has joined the family too.