How to Look After Your Baby's Gut Health


17 May 2024

How to Look After Your Baby's Gut Health

Lucy Upton, Weaning World
How to Look After Your Baby's Gut Health
As a children's dietitian, I’m talking to more and more parents about the importance of baby’s gut health.  It's a topic that's increasingly in the spotlight, and rightly so - but so many parents don’t know that the first three years of a child’s life are THE most critical time for establishing a healthy and happy ‘gut garden’.  Investing in strategies to support baby’s gut health can lay the groundwork for a lifetime of well-being. So, let's delve into this topic together!

Understanding the Gut Microbiome and Its Development in Babies

First things first, let's talk about the gut microbiome. Picture it as a bustling garden filled with trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms. This vibrant ecosystem is pivotal in maintaining overall health, from digestion to immune response. In babies, this gut garden undergoes significant development in the first three years of life—a critical window to get it right!

Several factors influence the development of a baby's gut health and microbiome, including delivery method, skin-to-skin contact, feeding method (e.g., breast milk or formula milk), starting solids, exposure to antibiotics, and environmental factors like siblings and pets. While some aspects may be beyond our control, we can do plenty to support the growth of beneficial bacteria in our little one's gut.


Promoting Good Gut Bacteria in Babies

Now, let's explore strategies to nurture a thriving gut microbiome in babies:

  • Breastfeeding: Breast milk contains valuable components like human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), which are the breast milk's own prebiotic (‘food’ for gut bacteria!). Despite being such a big component, HMOs have no nutritional benefit to babies, and they reach the gut intact to feed and support the growth of beneficial bacteria.

  • Diverse Diet: Introduce a wide variety of foods when starting solids, including fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, fermented foods, and whole grains, to promote the diversity of gut bacteria.  Avoid getting sucked into outdated recommendations that may limit your baby’s dietary variety, e.g. one new food every three days. The three-day rule, often touted as a standard for introducing new foods every three days during weaning, is unnecessary and should only be recommended in specific cases (ideally under supervision). Embracing dietary diversity and offering a wide range of foods to babies during weaning supports texture progression, sensory development, and gut microbiome diversity, laying the foundation for a varied and balanced diet.

  • Nature and Friends: Encourage outdoor play and interaction with peers and pets, as these experiences contribute to a healthy gut microbiome.

  • Evidence-Based Probiotics: Consider probiotic supplements with strains like Limosilactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938, which have shown benefits for conditions like colic in breastfed babies.

  • The Long-Term Benefits of a Healthy Gut Microbiome

    So, whow does supporting a baby's gut health impact their health lifelong?  To understand this, it’s essential to realise that the gut and gut microbiome impacts well past the bowel.  We know the gut microbiome supports the ‘discussion’ between the gut and other body systems, from the immune system to the brain!  A happy health gut microbiome influences;

  • Immune Functioning: A diverse and healthy gut microbiota supports robust immune development, helping to tune the immune system to have desirable responses, e.g., keeping out illness or parasites, not overreacting, and minimising inflammation.

  • Cognitive Functioning and Mental Well-Being: The gut-brain axis connects the gut and brain, with gut bacteria influencing neurotransmitter production and mental well-being.

  • Navigating Weaning for Babies with Reflux or Tummy Troubles

    For parents facing challenges like reflux or tummy troubles during weaning, here are some key considerations:

  • Timing: There is no robust evidence to support early weaning for babies with reflux. Focus on developmental signs of readiness and optimise reflux management strategies before starting solids, with the support of a qualified health professional as needed.

  • Food Choices: While certain foods may exacerbate reflux symptoms, focus on your baby's needs and symptoms rather than strictly adhering to dietary restrictions.

  • Seeking Support: Don't hesitate to seek guidance from healthcare professionals if you're concerned about your baby's symptoms or growth.

Long term health

Nurturing a baby's gut health during infancy and weaning sets the stage for a lifetime of wellness. By understanding the importance of the gut microbiome, promoting diverse dietary choices, and seeking support with anything from breastfeeding to tricky tummy troubles, we can help set all babies off to a great gut start!



About Lucy Upton

Lucy Upton is a leading UK Paediatric Dietitian and voice for children's nutrition, with over 14 years of experience embedded in the NHS and Private Practice.  She is passionate about championing the nutritional and gut health of babies and children of all ages and has partnered with Weaning World and BioGaia to speak about the importance of babies' gut health during weaning and the first 3 years of development. You can find Lucy presenting at The Baby Show - find out more here.

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