Development of Gut Bacteria.

New parents may not be aware of the huge part our microbiome (the name given to the population of more than 100 trillion microorganisms that live in our digestive tract, skin and other parts of our bodies) play in our overall health and digestive wellness.

Intestinal flora plays an important part in health.  There are over 500 different species of bacteria living in our gut totalling more than the number of cells in our bodies by a factor of 10.  This “army” is built up from birth.  During a lifetime our individual biome receives many assaults from bad food choices, antibiotics and other disruptions.  Even if we take a course of probiotics to balance out these attacks, it has been shown that our gut bacteria reverts back to its default mode a short time after discontinuing the supplements.  All the more reason to make sure that a good basis is established in infancy.

Before a baby is born his digestive tract is sterile as he receives pre-digested food from his mother.   As the baby travels down the birth canal he is exposed to bacteria in the mother’s vagina and later, breast feeding and general interaction with the outside world soon provides the baby’s digestive tract with colonies of bacteria.  Infants born by C Section miss out on this exposure at birth and are at a disadvantage straight away.  To overcome this, it is possible to supplement with probiotics specially formulated for infants.  Also, it is suggested now that swabs are taken from the mother’s vaginal area before or after giving birth and these can be used to “inoculate” the newborn’s skin.

Research has shown that different strains of bacteria develop in breastfed babies than in those that are bottle fed. Scientists have discovered that breast milk contains complex carbohydrates called oligosaccharides but the human baby lacks enzymes to break down these sugars.  It appears that these are not there to feed the baby but as food for Bifidobacterium infantis which helps to encourage growth of these “good guys” and crowd out the less beneficial strains.  When an infant fail to develop good gut bacteria, he may become colicky, experience pain and be prone to developing asthma, eczema or allergy.

Among the many known functions, these flora manufacture nutrients e.g. vitamin K and many of the B vitamins.  Some help with our absorption of minerals.  Others provide a fundamental role in our ability to fight infection.  Science is only beginning to understand the different interactions between us and our intestinal bacteria.  We need to pay attention in order to set our children up for a lifetime of good health.

By Mary Teeling, Nutritional Therapist  MNTOI

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