- Was your child born via C-section?
- Have they ever received antibiotics?
- Do they eat processed food instead of a diet rich in fibre?
- Do they live an indoor sedentary lifestyle?
It is likely that these modern lifestyle choices impact the way your child’s gut microbiota is established and how well it develops. Common modern disorders like asthma, eczema, hay-fever or diabetes may be linked to this microbiota…
The infant gut microbiota has a big part to play in your child’s immune system and overall metabolism. Their first microbial colonisation depends on how they were born (birth canal or C-section). From then, gut colonisation occurs in the first hours, days and weeks of life, with the first three years of a baby’s life being a critical period for establishing and stabilising their microbiota.
Their diverse and unique gut microbiota is essential for growth and development by providing:
- The ability to digest food properly
- Short chain fatty acids (important for maintaining the integrity of the gut lining)
- Protection against pathogenic bacteria
- Immune system training
Antibiotics beware: They have a rightful place in the doctor’s toolkit, it’s simple, they are life-saving. In some instances, they are the only treatment option available. However, a five-day course of antibiotics can suppress as much as 1/3 of your gut bacteria, this provides an opportunity (more car parking spaces open up) for other microbial strains to increase their presence. This disruption is important to consider in babies when the microbiota is developing and potentially playing a role in training the immune system.
Taking probiotics and fermented foods both during and for 2 weeks after an antibiotic course is one way of trying to re-establish beneficial strains into the gut. If possible space your probiotic intake 2-3 hours from the antibiotic dose and continue after the antibiotic course is finished.
What can you do to improve your child’s beneficial gut microbes?
- Increase their time outside – gardening, composting and exposure to dirt
- Consider an increased exposure to animals – particularly a dog or being on a farm
- Consume predominantly fresh produce and limit highly refined food
- Maximise their fibre intake and encourage adequate hydration
- Limit the use of “anti-bacterial” soaps, washes and cleaning agents – you’re destroying the beneficial bacteria too, warm soapy water will suffice
- Discuss with your doctor pros and cons for antibiotic prescribing
- Consume probiotics – either as a supplement or as fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi. Store bought yoghurt and ‘probiotic’ milk drinks may provide insufficient probiotics as well as a high amount of sugar.
- Read probiotic labels, diversity is key so take time to read the label to determine the number of strains included.
Contributed by Dr Elizabeth Biggs, Akesi Co-founder