If you’ve researched the term “gut health” for you or your baby recently, you may have come across the terms “microbiome” and “microbiota.” If you’re a health nut, these terms are probably popping up across your social feed, too, and now you’re here trying to figure out what all the fuss is about – and why this may be important to the health of your baby?
For starters, what is the microbiome and the microbiota?
Microbiota: The microbiota consists of the trillions of microorganisms that live in each person. Since the majority of these microorganisms, primarily bacteria, live in the digestive tract, the term “gut microbiota” is often used.
Microbiome: The term microbiome refers to the entire habitat, including the microorganisms
their genes, and the surrounding environment.
Importance of the gut microbiota. The gut microbiota is the complex community of microorganisms (both good and bad) that live in the digestive tract. It is a complex environment and keeping a healthy balance of good bacteria in the microbiota is an important factor for health. The gut microbiota is closely linked to the body’s immune and nervous systems and influences many aspects of health and well- being including digestion and absorption of nutrients from the food babies eat, influencing the responses of the immune system and communicating with the functions of the brain.
How does the microbiota develop? The composition of the microbiota begins very early in life and, based on some research findings, may start to be influenced even before birth. It was once believed that the composition of the microbiota is fairly well established by two-three years of age, but current research reveals that the gut microbiota changes over the lifespan, with the most dramatic changes occurring within the first two-three years. Considering the important role the gut microbiota may play, it’s important to consider the aspects that can influence the development of the microbiota – both positive and negative.
How Gerber supports baby’s gut health. As the leader in baby’s gut health, Gerber is committed to understanding and contributing to the very latest research and creating evidence-based products that help you give your baby the happy and healthy start she deserves. A team of researchers located at the Nestlé Research Center in Switzerland (Gerber’s parent company) have been studying the gut microbiome and microbiota from birth to aging, in humans and pets, for many years. More recently, Nestlé has partnered with the University of California San Diego for Microbiome Innovation (CMI) to better understand the relationship between the human gut and microbiome, as well as to advance solutions for better gut health and an overall wellbeing.
What you can do to support your baby’s healthy microbiota development. Current and emerging research shows there are three promising areas to help support your little one’s microbiota development:
FEEDING CHOICES Starting from Birth
Breastfeeding is the best way to feed your baby and has many benefits. Breastmilk has components that can promote the development of a balanced microbiota, rich in bifidobacteria, including probiotic bacteria and oligosaccharides – carbohydrates that support the growth of the beneficial bacteria that live in the digestive tract.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide a health benefit when consumed in adequate amounts. Benefits of probiotics are strain specific. In other words, they are not all created equal and you should choose those with established scientific evidence to support a balanced microbiota as well as specific benefits. Probiotics are available in supplement form for breastfed babies and are also added to some infant formulas.
- Probiotics generally support a balanced microbiota, digestive health and, because 70% of the immune system is in the digestive tract, probiotics also support the developing immune system.
- Babies delivered by C- section have unique considerations given that they are not exposed to mom’s beneficial bacteria in the birth canal. They may benefit from the probiotic B. lactis starting from birth to support a more balanced microbiota similar to vaginally delivered infants, as well as to support immune function.
- Probiotic L. reuteri has been shown to help address colic, excessive crying and functional GI disorders in infants and young children.
- Antibiotic use, sterile environments, and digestive upset can each negatively affect the microbiota. Probiotics can help replenish the bacteria in the digestive tract and may be recommended by your health care provider during and after antibiotic use.
Prebiotics are the food for the microorganisms in the digestive tract.
- HMOs – Are prebiotic oligosaccharides that are structurally similar to those found in breastmilk. This is why they are referred to as human milk oligosaccharides or HMOs. Breastmilk has many oligosaccharides, and they play a role in balancing the microbiota and supporting the developing immune system of breastfed infants. A specific HMO known as 2’FL is an ingredient added to some infant formulas that is structurally the same as the most predominant HMO found in breast milk and can help deliver these benefits to formula fed infants as well.
- GOS and FOS – are also prebiotics oligosaccharides that serve as food for certain bacteria that naturally reside in the gut and help support gut health. GOS and FOS are not naturally found in human milk but provide some of the benefits of HMOs.
Once solid foods are introduced, encourage a healthy diet with whole grains, vegetables, beans, and fruits. A diverse diet of healthy food also contributes to the development of a balanced microbiota.
The early years of a child’s life is a unique window of opportunity to positively influence the developing microbiota. These are just a few considerations to keep in mind as your little one grows and develops! Every baby’s microbiota is different and the research to support its positive development is advancing each day. As the leader in baby’s gut health, Gerber is committed to sharing the very latest research and creating evidence-based products that help you give your baby the happy and healthy start she deserves.
For questions, we have experts on call 24/7 to help with your babies dietary and gut health needs. Let us know how we can assist you.