You may know that your gastrointestinal system contains trillions of microorganisms such as bacteria, but did you know that this collection of microorganisms is called your microbiota
, and that babies have their own special gut microbiota?
A baby’s microbiota develops during birth and is nourished by breastmilk. By the time your baby is 3 years old, their microbiota is fully developed. T
he health and unique composition of the microorganisms in their gut affects not only their gut health, but also their immune system, and this is because different bacteria support certain immune cells so a healthy microbiota helps to program your baby’s developing immune system.
Baby gut health
How do I help my baby develop a healthy microbiome?
There are many things mums can do to support the health of their baby’s microbiota:
- Delivery by vaginal birth facilitates the transfer of good bacteria from mum to bub
- Exclusive breastfeeding for six months nourishes your baby’s gut bacteria
- Lots of skin to skin contact helps your baby share your skin microbiota
- Avoiding perfumed products helps support the balance of good and bad bacteria
- Becoming a pet owner gives your baby exposure to a wide range of good bacteria
- Not being too clean or too dirty will help support the balance of your baby’s gut bacteria
I had to stop breastfeeding, what else can I do?
If you’re worried about your baby’s gut microbiota, the first step is to talk to a healthcare professional. Your baby might benefit from taking an infant probiotic.
We know that breastfeeding is best for babies but some mothers are unable to breastfeed and need to use infant formula. Formula feeding is one thing that will change the development of your baby’s microbiota and this can cause tummy troubles such as constipation, reflux, wind and pain.
So give your baby as much breastmilk as you can and if you need to use formula, take the time to find one that can nourish your baby’s developing gut. This can take some trial and error, so if your baby is not comfortable on one formula, it is worth trying other options.
How do I know if my baby’s tummy is healthy?
Many mums worry about their baby’s tummy, especially their poo! The truth is, there is a wide range of normal and no matter how you feed your baby, if they’re comfortable, mostly settled and alert, consider it normal and healthy.
Breastfed and formula fed babies have different bowel habits because they have different poo. Some of this is because of differences between the microbiomes and some of it is because infant formula can be more difficult to digest and produces more waste - which means they poo more.
So formula feeding babies need to have daily bowel motions and it’s normal for these to be harder and more difficult to pass. Different formulas can change your baby’s poo, so if your baby’s not comfortable, try a different formula that might be better for your baby’s gut health.
What can I do to help my baby’s tummy trouble?
A warm, relaxing bath or a gentle baby massage is a lovely way to relax the tense muscles in your baby’s tummy. Skin to skin contact with baby lying against mum or dad’s chest can also help by providing gentle warmth and pressure to relive tension in the digestive system. It’s very comforting and relaxing for baby and is a lovely therapy, wrapped up in a hug.
If you are breastfeeding and your baby has tummy trouble, you can get some personalised help from a lactation consultant or other healthcare professional. Sometimes simple changes to the way a baby breastfeeds can improve your baby’s comfort.
The best thing you can do to look after your baby’s gut health is to continue giving your baby breastmilk
, even if only small amounts. If you use infant formula, always follow the preparation instructions on the tin. If your baby is constipated or in pain, don’t forget to shop around, not all formulas are the same.
What else can I do to help support my baby’s digestion?
When using bottles, try a technique known as paced bottle feeding. This helps your baby to drink their milk at a comfortable pace and stops them from getting too much milk too quickly.
And lastly, you could try some baby massage or reflexology. These are simple techniques to learn and can be wonderful to relieve tummy pain.
Every baby is special and every baby also has a special gut microbiota that needs support and nourishment as they grow. Luckily there are plenty of things that you can do to help support your baby’s gut health and help soothe their tummy troubles.
If you are ever worried about your baby’s health, please seek the advice of your baby’s doctor.