Does a Newborn have Bacteria in their Gut?
The Immune system is a network of cells, tissues, and organs that defend the body against infection. It is one of the most peremptory and decisive factors that help determine overall health in infants.
The Health of the Baby while it is in the Womb depends mainly on –
- Nutrition intake of the mother
- Physical Health of the mother
- Mental Health of the mother
Physically, the baby develops gradually with all the nutrients it gets through the placenta. The organ formation is completed in the second trimester. The third trimester is marked by the maturation and development of these organs along with continued physical development e.g. colonization of intestine with micro-organisms. It was previously falsely believed that babies do not have any microbes in their gut before they are born. Recent researches show importance of the micro-organisms in gut in shaping the immunity and long-term health of a baby.
Human gastrointestinal microbiota, also known as gut flora or gut microbiota, are the microorganisms that live in the digestive tract of humans. Certain microbial species travel from the mother to the baby while it is growing in the uterus. But that is not the only way in which the baby comes in contact with the bacteria. Post birth many factors such as the way the baby is delivered i.e. c-section or normal vaginal delivery, breast feed or formula feed, time of introduction of weaning foods or even the environment in which the child is born or lives determine the gut microbiota.
An infant’s health depends on how strong their immune system is. How well they can fight back any kind of infection that might occur in the first few delicate months after birth. Infants due to their immature immune system are prone to:
- Gastric infections e.g. diarrhea
- Skin allergies
- Other allergies e.g. wheezing
The problems arising out of immature immune system of infants may at times require antibiotic intervention. However, frequent usage of antibiotics is not advised for infants as it may lead to them becoming drug resistant in future. Looking for options that can prevent the occurrence of these health issues is a good way forward e.g. use of prebiotics.
Prebiotic oligosaccharides are third largest component of breast milk and helps boost immunity of an infant. It helps in the growth of good bacteria in the intestine of the baby and thus improves gut health and immunity. Research indicate that prebiotics help with significant reduction in use of medications especially antibiotics. In addition the infant has a better digestive system, leading to softer stool.
Also supporting the gut and aiding digestion are probiotics. They are a variety of good bacteria already present in the gut. Probiotics are found in breast milk and also occurs in many fermented foods, including yogurt and sauerkraut.
However, prebiotics and probiotics are wrongly considered to be same quite naturally because their names are similar, and they are related to either providing or promoting good bacteria.
But in reality, they are completely different from each other. Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that pass through the stomach and small intestine undigested. They serve as food for probiotics in a child's gut/large bowel, helping them grow. The growth of good bacteria results into good digestive and immune systems in growing infants. So in order to support the functioning of probiotics (good bacteria), prebiotics are not only necessary, but they are indispensable. Probiotics on the other hand are beneficial live micro-organisms which when administered in appropriate amounts boosts gut health and immunity.
Thus, making the right choice of food for the baby is crucial in the first 2 yr of baby’s life as it helps set the tone for future health by modification of these gut micro-organisms.