8 ways to help your baby’s gut health

Maternal collectiveIn 2018 my first baby was born. Doctors had to perform a C-section due to her breech presentation. The procedure went without complications, but soon after starting solid foods, my daughter Charlize developed mild eczema and a sesame allergy.

I started researching the effects of a C-section and discovered that a mother passes her vaginal and intestinal bacteria to her baby through vaginal delivery. Initial bacterial colonization sets the stage for a child’s lifelong health. This process is called microbiome seeding.

My engineering background took full effect. While researching peer-reviewed scientific studies, I learned that babies born via C-section or exposed to antibiotics during labor may be missing out on those essential bacteria.

The key here is that 80% of your immune system lives in the gut and is dictated by which bacteria are or aren’t present.

C-section babies may need more microbiome support

Unfortunately, microbiome seeding disruptions can have a downstream effect on immune development. Babies born via C-section tend to lose exposure to their mother’s gut and vaginal microbiome, which may protect their gut.

And that matters.

For example, research shows that babies with C-sections may have a higher risk of atopic march. This is a progression of allergic conditions that typically begins with eczema and can progress to food allergies, asthma, hay fever and other chronic diseases.

I’ve also found that even with vaginal birth, a mom may not be transferring bacteria essential to her baby’s gut health if she no longer has those protective bacteria, which could be a result of lifestyle or environment. So it’s important to know if the mom needs extra support in the form of probiotics or lifestyle changes before giving birth as she passes on her intestinal and vaginal health to her baby.

Related: 5 ways to protect your baby’s microbiome after birth

Luckily, I’ve learned that there is a way to restore intestinal imbalances in a baby in the first 1,000 days of life. Studies show that if the so-called ‘Cesarean section microbial signature’ (the standard microbiome profile for babies born via cesarean section) disappears by one year of age, the baby’s risk of developing allergies is significantly reduced.

I equipped myself with more research and did everything I could to support my daughter’s intestinal health.

I opted for a vaginal swab procedure during the C-section. I breastfed for what some might consider a long time: 18 months. I made homemade kefir and my own fermented vegetables. We spent time with the pets and even visited local farms.

Create your baby’s first gut health test at home

I had no way of knowing if all my efforts had had the effect I hoped. There was no stool test for a baby’s first 1,000 days.

At the time, the only gut tests available used adult reference ranges leading to inaccurate results and worse, suggestions not suitable for a child.

So I took matters into my own hands. A month after my second child was born, I started a company called Tiny Health.

Tiny Health’s goal is simple: to offer a test designed specifically for pregnant moms and babies during the first 1,000 days of a baby’s life.

Related: Does my child need children’s vitamins?

I started with a small self-funded study with the help of a Mayo Clinic scientific adviser. I had a cohort of nine mothers and started collecting their microbiome samples during their pregnancy. After giving birth, I took stool samples from their babies at frequent intervals until their babies were 2 years old. This data has proved to be very impactful and actionable for parents, allowing them to detect any gut imbalances early on and make adjustments as needed.

After harvesting our seed in 2021, I worked with a team of microbiologists from Johns Hopkins, Cornell, USC and WashU to complete the proprietary bioinformatics and data science pipeline for our product. This led us to launch the the baby’s first gut health test at home which offers parents evidence-based insights and personalized advice on nutrition, supplements and lifestyle.

By providing transparency into what’s in their child’s gut, parents can act sooner and get to the root cause of their child’s gassing, allergies, and other chronic conditions. Ultimately, our mission is to improve the health outcomes of our next generation. We believe our work will result in better microbiome data, research, diagnostics and therapeutics.

Here are 8 ways to ensure your baby has the best gut health to start life

1. Test your microbiome first

Test your gut and vaginal microbiome during preconception or pregnancy to ensure you have the essential protective microbes to pass on to your baby during delivery.

2. If possible, plan for a vaginal birth

If you’re having a C-section and have a healthy vaginal microbiome, consider a vaginal swab protocol.

3. Breastfeed for at least 6 months

If possible, try to fully or partially breastfeed your baby for at least six months to continue transferring beneficial microbes to your baby.

Related: Study: Babies’ gut bacteria affected by delivery method

4. Observe the symptoms

If your baby has the following symptoms, you may want to have your baby’s gut tested to see if there might be any potential gut imbalances you can address: colic, gas, sleep problems, eczema, food allergies, protein intolerance, milk, constipation.

5. Not all babies need infant probiotics

In fact, we do not recommend them for extended periods. If your child has high levels of hostile bacteria, small doses of the right kind of missing strains can be very effective. It is important to know that not all probiotics are created equal. A baby’s gut health test can help you determine if your baby’s probiotics are working and when to stop them.

6. Expand their exposure

Small amounts of hostile bacteria are essential for training the immune system in the first years of life. We recommend that you expose your child to nature and animals and avoid toxic household cleaners or antibacterial products. Children in overly sanitized environments are more likely to develop allergies.

7. Opt for lots of play with nature

Research has shown that choosing a more nature-based nursery can lead to a more robust microbiome than one with artificial turf and fewer outdoor interactions.

8. Use antibiotics only when absolutely necessary

While antibiotics can be life saving, they have undesirable effects on a child’s gut. Testing your child’s microbiome before treatment gives you a foundation and insight into how best to restore their gut health afterward.

small bowel test kit

Bonus: Use Code MOTHERLY20 To Get $20 Off Any Microbiome Test From Tiny Health

Sources

Bager P, Wohlfahrt J, Westergaard T. Cesarean delivery and risk of atopy and allergic disease: meta-analysis. Clinical and experimental allergy. April 2008;38(4):634-42. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2222.2008.02939.x

Olm MR, Dahan D, Carter MM, Merrill BD, Yu FB, Jain S, Meng X, Tripathi S, Wastyk H, Neff N, Holmes S. Robust variation in infant gut microbiome assembly across a spectrum of lifestyles. Science. June 10, 2022; 376 (6598): 1220-3.

Roslund MI, Puhakka R, Grönroos M, Nurminen N, Oikarinen S, Gazali AM, Cinek O, Kramná L, Siter N, Vari HK, Soininen L. Biodiversity intervention improves immune regulation and health-associated commensal microbiota among kindergarten children. Science advances. 2020 October 14;6(42):eaba2578.

Shao Y, Forster SC, Tsaliki E, et al. Stunted microbiota and opportunistic pathogen colonization in cesarean delivery. Nature. 2019;574(7776):117-121. doi:10.1038/s41586-019-1560-1

Stokholm J, Thorsen J, Blaser MJ, et al. Mode of delivery and gut microbial changes correlate with increased risk of childhood asthma. Ski Transl Med. 2020;12(569):eaax9929. doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.aax9929

Vighi G, Marcucci F, Sensi L, Di Cara G, Frati F. Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clin Exp Immunol. 2008;153 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):3-6. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2249.2008.03713.xZhao Q, Elson CO. Adaptive immune education using gut microbiota antigens. Immunology. 2018;154(1):28-37. doi:10.1111/imm.12896

This story is part of The Motherly Collective’s contributor network, where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice of brands, writers and experts who want to share their point of view with our community. We believe there is no single story of motherhood and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-led content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you are interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective, click here.

8 ways to help your baby’s gut health

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