Probiotics for Babies – a Good Idea?

There are trillions of friendly bacteria residing in the gastrointestinal tract (GI-tract) of our digestive system. These bacteria are fundamental to life itself as they help to protect us from infection and illness. Before a baby first comes into the world, it has a gut bacteria count of zero [1].

Newborn's First Exposure to Healthy Bacteria

A baby's very first encounter with the bacterial world starts during the delivery stage. It's not the destination that determines this, it's the actual journey. To put it another way, how the baby comes into the world influences the quality of bacteria it comes across in those first precious moments of life. A vaginal birth provides babies with their first colossal exposure to the bacteria so essential to life. One survey found that babies born via cesarean section bore distinctly different bacteria to those of vaginal births. Samples taken from the newborns skin, noses mouths and rectums determined these findings [2].

The mother helps to inoculate her baby with healthy microflora at birth. However, there can sometimes be a problem with this, no thanks to modern living. Certain lifestyle habits and poor diet means many women today don't always have a healthy microflora. If the mother hasn't got it, she can't give it away; it's as simple as that. Of course, every caring mother wants to get her baby's inner ecosystem off to a great start. Generations ago this wasn't even an issue, but it's a growing concern in the modern age. This is where probiotics for infants can come to the rescue.

Many women now consult their healthcare provider about this very issue. This is why we're seeing so many new mums give their babies probiotics soon after birth. This is to make sure there's a proper colonization of a healthy microflora getting into the child's intestines.

C-section Births

A study of cesarean babies saw that some newborns were missing out on many of the beneficial microbes. With a vaginal birth this is much less of a problem. In this case, the baby makes contact with all the healthy microorganisms inside the mother's birth canal. In fact, all the fluids from within the canal coats the baby from head to toe, making sure exposure is complete. Scientists think this is important because it can have a real impact on the long-term health of the newborn. The good news is that there's now a way to restore the lost microbiome of cesarean babies, at least in part. The process, in theory, is quite simple. They simply give the baby a bath in the mother's vaginal fluids. This is a new process doctor's call “vaginal seeding.”

Why this Is Important

This discovery is important. It is a method that helps to boost the immune system of cesarean babies. Scientists have carried out studies in the past that look carefully into cesarean births. The findings suggest babies born by C-section are more vulnerable to certain health issues. For example, they have a higher risk of getting asthma for one. They are also at more risk of contracting allergies and various other health conditions.

In tests, scientists gave some C-section babies vaginal seeding (bathing). These infants went on to develop microbial neighborhoods like those of vaginally born infants. These tests also showed that the babies harbored more of two bacteria species. These are the ones that scientists believe play a role in training the immune system in humans. They are Lactobacillus and Bacteroides. Both of these bacterium were almost absent in the C-section babies that didn't receive vaginal seeding [3] [4].

Most doctors agree that certain babies benefit from probiotic supplements, including:

  • Babies born through cesarean section
  • Babies born pre-term
  • Babies that are formula fed

There may be other cases where babies benefit from probiotics too, even if they are born vaginally and are breast fed. For example, in cases where the mother's own gut flora isn't good enough to pass on to her newborn.

A Healthy Ecosystem

A healthy inner bacterial ecosystem is easy to define. It just means that the baby's intestines have the right balance of friendly bacteria and beneficial yeast. We call this the microflora. The human microflora plays a vital role in protecting the health and wellbeing of its host. It overcomes pathogenic viruses, harmful bacteria and yeast. Helping to build a strong inner bacterial ecosystem is a mother's way of naturally vaccinating her child.  Microflora also has another crucial role in that it ensures the baby can digest its milk [5].

If a mother needs a little help to help develop the baby's bacterial ecosystem, probiotics for newborns could be the answer. There are quite a few specialised probiotics which are safe to use from birth. Some of the main benefits for giving your baby probiotics include:

  • Help prevent necrotising enterocolitis
  • Help prevent diarrhea and fevers:
  • Help to improve the immune response in babies infected with the rotavirus.
  • Reduced risk of developing atopic eczema.

Summing Up

All humans need a healthy balance of good bacteria living in the GI tract. But just because we need it, that doesn't always mean we have the right balance. This goes for babies too, for the reasons outlined in this article. What probiotics do is introduce friendly bacteria (or flora) into a system that is lacking. The more good bacteria we have, the better our health is. This includes better digestion, less gas and bloating and a much healthier immune system. For babies and toddlers, having a healthy gut flora means clearer skin and nicer hair. It also means they have the natural ability to fight off nasty viruses that often spread around playgrounds and daycare centers.

It makes perfect sense for any mother to want to help her newborn build a healthy microflora from within. Introducing probiotics into the baby's diet is a natural way to increase the good bacteria in their guts.



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