Most parents await the arrival of their baby with much anticipation and joy. When your baby is finally delivered, you would be engrossed with your little bundle of joy, looking forward to his or her growth milestones.
Little things such as the state of your baby’s gut microbiota would probably be the furthest thing from your mind.
However, the gut microbiota is a collection of microorganisms living in the human gut which play a vital role in maintaining not just good gut health, but also overall good health. Hence, paying attention to this aspect of baby’s growth is an important element of parenting.
The growth and development of a healthy gut with good bacteria starts with the practice of breastfeeding.
A good gut start
All babies can start off with a good nutritional foundation for healthy growth and development, and this comes in the form of breastmilk. It is the main source of nutrition, including prebiotics and probiotics, for your baby.
Studies show that the gut microbiota of breast-fed babies is more stable compared to babies who are formula-fed, with less bad bacteria in their gut. Hence it is important that mothers breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, followed by complementary feeding, and continue to breastfeed until baby is two years of age.
Mums also need to look after their own health during this time, as their food consumption and lifestyle will affect the production and quality of breast milk.
Here are some tips on how mothers’ good health can give her baby an early gut advantage:
Eat healthily to maintain good digestive health
Include foods rich in prebiotics and probiotics
Get enough sleep and rest
Stop smoking or vaping
Stick with a diet that includes nutritious and healthy foods. You need all that nutrition pre- and post-partum to absorb nutrients, vitamins, minerals and probiotics for your baby.
Prebiotics can be found in dietary fibres such as legumes, whole grain food, fruits and vegetables. Foods with good bacteria include fermented food (tempeh, acar, kimchi), and probiotic-rich food, including fermented dairy products such as cultured milk drink, yoghurt and cheese. All these are also transferred to the baby via breastmilk.
Breastfeeding mums (and indirectly babies) can also benefit from cultured milk drinks. A local study carried out by Pusat Perubatan Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (PPUKM) has shown that consuming cultured milk drinks with live probiotic cultures (L. acidophilus and L. paracasei) reduce gastrointestinal symptoms such as constipation (which is common during pregnancy and some mums may experience after delivery), as well as enhance the body’s immune system.
Mothers need plenty of rest to recover, as sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on health. A weak body can also affect the immune system, and increase stress levels, which may in turn reduce milk supply.
Cigarettes or e-cigarettes are unhealthy habits that have direct effects on the user’s health and also those around them. Quit this habit as early as possible. Smoking decreases milk production and alters milk composition.
Being physically active has many benefits, including lowering the risk of post-partum depression. Light exercises will be fine, or exercises as simple as stretching. Also, mum needs her ‘me-time’ to recover from the physical, mental and emotional stra
Avoid Taking Unnecessary Antibiotics
Antibiotics are lifesaving. When you need them, you really need them. However, antibiotics are also over-prescribed. They are often given for mild illnesses that would resolve on their own and for viral illnesses, like the common cold and most ear infections, against which they are completely ineffective.
Over-prescription not only causes a rise in multidrug resistant strains of bacteria (and these superbugs are very scary), it also kills our healthy gut bacteria. Before taking antibiotics, it’s advisable to double check with your doctor whether they are truly necessary, for your child and yourself.
Grow up and grow well
Of course, as your baby grows and is weaned off breast milk, other factors play a major role in the growth and development of your child’s gut microbiota. Nutrition is a major factor, so make sure you provide your baby with a healthy diet.
As your child grows older, other than protein and carbohydrates, do provide more whole grain foods, fruits and vegetables. Just like mum, growing children should also eat healthily (which includes food rich in prebiotics and probiotics), get enough sleep and rest, and be more physically active. These will help to ensure your baby’s digestive health stays in good condition and also maintain your baby’s overall health and wellness.
This article is courtesy of Digestive Health Malaysia (DHM) society and VITAGEN Healthy Digestion Programme (VHDP), in conjunction with World Digestive Health Day 2019. Dr Tan Eng Soon is a Gastroenterologist & Hepatologist. He is also a Council Member of DHM. He is not associated with, and does not endorse any brand or product. For more information, contact 03-56323301.