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An ever-growing amount of research is making us all reconsider what we know about the health of our gut, inlcuding our babies’. New parents are advised time and time again to stimulate their babies’ and young children’s brain by reading to them, playing music, singing with them, playing various games and so on. Healthy stimulation of the developing brain is a great gift we can give to our children from even before they are born (we can safely say that most, if not all parents-to-be find themselves talking and singing to the baby.)

But what about the second brain and the help it needs to get off to a great start? Wait, what second brain? Yes, that is what your gut microbiome is called after the latest research pointed to information regarding the communication between our brain and the gut.

The complexity of your gut microbes is mind-boggling and their possible roles include producing neurotransmitters (complex molecules that help communication between brain cells or between gut and brain); stimulation of immune cells to produce cytokines (proteins involved in cell signalling) and producing metabolites which can help further regulate various metabolic processes in the body. Simply put: we are in for the long tide, together, bacteria and their humans.

That’s a whole lot of action for what we have long thought to be ‘just bacteria’. Hopefully now you feel fully motivated to help your child start on the right track – or add some healthy microbiome-building tools to your arsenal. Here are a few things to consider:

Birth and breastfeeding: Babies get exposed to lots of bacteria as they get born, if they are delivered via vaginal birth that is. If your pregnancy is healthy and allows for natural childbirth, go for it (yes it hurts, but…).

  • Vaginal birth means your baby will be exposed to a variety of bacteria that will populate her gut.
  • Babies born through C-section have a lesser exposure to beneficial ‘mom bacteria’ and they may also be exposed to antibiotics which are given to the mother to prevent infections. There is an increased conversation about C-section born babies and the need to exposing them to bacteria from their moms to get them off to a good start.
  • As you start breastfeeding, special sugar molecules present in breastmilk will help feed beneficial bacteria, which ensures a great start of the microbiome ‘garden’. Also, during nursing, the baby will come in contact with the bacteria on his mother’s breast, which adds to the bacteria in breastmilk

Exploring the world. As your baby grows and starts interacting with the world, you will witness (often with horror if this is your first child,) the ‘mouthing’ of everything. Babies learn about the world that way and though it may seem unsanitary (we are not talking about putting baby in some awfully contaminated place,) the fact that many objects find their way into your baby’s mouth means exposure to more bacteria. On that note, stay away from antibacterial cleaners, soaps and wipes (make your own natural cleaners using vinegar, baking soda, liquid soap and lemon and use natural soap.)

Solid food explorations. The probiotics that are alive and well in your baby’s gut will come in handy.

  • Make sure you provide a variety of foods and a good amount of fibre (include a good and varied supply of fruit and veggies.)
  • Do observe your baby’s reaction to new foods and plan the meals accordingly.
  • Some foods may need to be set aside and reintroduced; make sure you talk to your medical health practitioner about stronger reactions.
  • If you have picky eaters, talk to your family health practitioners about natural supplements that can help your babe’s microbiome and overall health.

Make it a family affair. It’s not just the baby’s microbiome that need to be made as healthy as possible. The whole family should do the same, so make sure you include naturally fermented foods in your diet (homemade sauerkraut is easy to make and so delicious,) and maintain an adequate amount of fibre daily. Make sure your meals are a time of relaxation and peacefulness: your microbiome is sensitive to stress, much like the rest of your body. Let’s not forget that our gut bacteria play a role in mental health too!

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