How can I give my baby’s tummy the best start in life? Nutritional Therapist Claire Barnes explains all about gut bacteria
Many mums ask the question, “does my baby need probiotics?’ With TV ads and social media chat about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ gut bacteria, it’s difficult to know if your baby is naturally protected or if their tiny tummies could do with some help.
The bacteria that make up a baby’s gut microflora (the bacteria that help break down food) are obtained as your baby passes through the birth canal and they are given more boosts through breast milk and from the environment around them. Recent research also suggests your own microflora will influence your baby’s gut flora.
A balanced microflora is important for everyone but possibly even more important for a baby’s health, to help prevent the later onset of health conditions. Beneficial bacteria in the gut can assist with the digestion of milk and the later introduction of solid foods as you start to wean your baby; they can also improve healthy bowel movements and create a strong protective gut lining, necessary for the absorption of nutrients as well as blocking any toxins.
An imbalance of a normal gut flora can occur for many reasons. In an infant these imbalances could have occurred due to, among other things, a Caesarean birth, premature delivery, formula feeding and antibiotic use. An imbalance of normal colonisation from infancy has been associated with many conditions, such as colic, eczema, food allergies and even conditions such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Here, Nutritional Therapist Claire Barnes explains more:
Infantile colic is a common and distressing problem for both babies and parents. Although the cause is unknown, it is suggested that gastrointestinal issues and constipation may play a role. Research has found that the gut flora appears to be imbalanced, with a lower bacterial diversity in infants suffering from colic. It appears these infants often have fewer levels of both beneficial Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium. A recent trial showed a seven strain live bacteria supplement (probiotic) with prebiotics such as those found in found in Bio-Kult Infantis to significantly improve symptoms in infants suffering from colic, without any reported side effects.1
An imbalance in the gut flora appears to promote an immune environment which is more susceptible to allergies, so early colonisation with Bifidobacterium and Lactobacilli has been suggested to protect children from allergies. There is good evidence to suggest that multi-strain live bacteria supplements with prebiotics could be useful in supporting allergic conditions, such as eczema.2
Both maternal and early-life antibiotics have been associated with the later development of adverse health conditions such as allergies, obesity and possibly autism. Studies have shown that antibiotic treatment in early life has a detrimental effect on gut flora composition.3 Live bacteria and prebiotics may help to restore the balance of the gut flora after antibiotic treatment. Taking a multi-strain live bacteria supplement alongside antibiotics, two hours apart and continued for two to four weeks after the antibiotic therapy has finished, appears to be most effective.
Premature babies show a remarkably less diverse microbiome than full term healthy babies. An imbalance in the gut flora of a preterm infant is associated with Caesarean delivery, increased exposure to antibiotics, lack of breast-feeding and exposure to environmental toxins. Probiotic species have been used successfully to colonise the gut of preterm infants, reducing the numbers of potentially pathogenic bacteria and improving gut functioning.4
It is already widely accepted that the brain sends signals to the gut, which is why stress and other emotions can contribute to gut symptoms. Research now indicates that the signals also travel in the opposite direction. Gastrointestinal symptoms have been found to be strongly correlated with the severity of behavioural conditions such as autism and an abnormal gut flora is often observed. It has been suggested that pathogenic micro-organisms produce toxins that could cross the blood brain barrier and interfere with brain development. A recent survey gave autistic children a multi-strain probiotic for six months, the results showed a significant decrease in severity of symptoms and significant improvements in gastrointestinal symptoms.5
To find out more about Bio-Kult Infantis, a pre- and pro-biotic for babies, £11.95, visit (www.bio-kult.com)
1. Kianifar H, Ahanchian H, Grover Z, et al. Synbiotic in the management of infantile colic: a randomised controlled trial. J Paediatr Child Health 2014; : 801–5.
2. Chang Y-S, Trivedi MK, Jha A, Lin Y-F, Dimaano L, García-Romero MT. Synbiotics for Prevention and Treatment of Atopic Dermatitis: A Meta-analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. JAMA Pediatr 2016; 170: 236–42.
3. Rutten NBMM, Rijkers GT, Meijssen CB, et al. Intestinal microbiota composition after antibiotic treatment in early life: the INCA study. BMC Pediatr 2015; 15: 204.
4. Abdulkadir B, Nelson A, Skeath T, et al. Routine Use of Probiotics in Preterm Infants: Longitudinal Impact on the Microbiome and Metabolome. Neonatology. 2016; : 239–47.
5. MD RW, Roberts E, Sichel LSS and J. Improvements in Gastrointestinal Symptoms among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder Receiving the Delpro® Probiotic and Immunomodulator Formulation. J Probiotics Heal 2013; 2013. DOI:10.4172/2329-8901.1000102.