Birthing, Breastfeeding and Your Baby’s Gut – Part 1
The benefits of breastfeeding are massive on every level of human existence – physically, mentally, emotionally, environmentally, financially, nutritiously, globally. The list is virtually endless. One of the major benefits of breastfeeding that is often only addressed at a surface level is the gastrointestinal tract, which is highly connected to your baby’s immune system. This week we’re diving deep into your baby’s tiny tummy to discuss birthing, breastfeeding and your baby’s gut.
The microbiome refers to the trillions of flora that reside in and on the human body, many of which are in the gastrointestinal system. There are over 1000 species and 7,000 strains of bacteria found in the gut. This microbiota is generally not harmful, and many of them are actually helpful. The good flora helps combat pathogens and is an essential part of the immune system.
Probiotics are agents that help develop good flora in the body. Antibiotics, while helpful in fighting infections, kill off both good and bad microbiota. This is why avoiding antibiotics as much as possible in infancy and early childhood is recommended. Young bodies need to build-up microbiota to help them fight off foreign attacks throughout their lives. Populating the microbiome is especially crucial in the first three years of life, which is why birthing and breastfeeding are so important to your baby’s gut.
In the Beginnning
In the womb a baby’s gastrointestinal system is virtually sterile. Neither good nor bad bacteria grow during gestation. Baby’s immune system is also incredibly immature at birth. Mothers release small amounts of antibodies late in pregnancy to help protect newborns, but otherwise the baby has had no means of strengthening GI flora or the immune system until he is born. This is why a baby’s gastrointestinal system is sometimes called the “virgin gut” or “immunonaive gut.”
The Birthing Process
Immediately upon birth, a baby is introduced to bacteria. During vaginal delivery baby is colonized with his mother’s bacteria making vaginal birth an incredible first measure of protecting him. In addition to genetics, these microbes that coat the baby come from a variety of environmental factors that surround the mother, from the air she breathes and the food she eats, to personal care products she uses or anything else that she comes into contact with. Not only does it contribute to immune defense, it also helps babies digest their mother’s milk. In fact, as childbirth draws closer, a mom-to-be will develop more bacteria in her vagina to increase these benefits for her baby.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our series on birthing, breastfeeding and your baby’s gut later this week when we’ll explore how breastfeeding supports your baby’s gut in extraordinary ways.
Sources: Healthline, The Alpha Parent, Medical News Today and Health-E-Learning
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