The importance of good infant gut health (guest post)

We have been lucky enough today to get the opinion of a GP who has extensive experience in paediatrics! The article touches on the importance of infant gut health, and some of the contributing factors to your baby’s gut. Such great information – take a read!

Ensuring baby has 10 fingers, 10 toes and a healthy set of lungs is often at the forefront of most new mothers minds. But something that is just as important and influential for their wellbeing is infant gut health.

A term that is used often but little understood, gut health refers to the amount of healthy microorganisms, such as bacteria within the digestive system. The digestive tract is often described as the ‘second brain’ and maintaining good gut health is fundamental to overall health and wellbeing.

“The health of your gastrointestinal system can have an enormous impact on the entire body,” says Dr Ryan Harvey from House Call Doctor. “It helps your body extract nutrients from food and helps support your immune system to protect against pathogens and illness.”

Good gut health is not only fundamental for physical health but mental health too. “The gut-brain axis links the emotional and cognitive areas of the brain to the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract,” says Dr Harvey. This is how stress, emotion and psychological issues can affect gut sensations and visa versa.

Gut health is fundamental for mental and physical wellbeing so what factors can ensure your baby has optimal good bacteria in the digestive tract from birth and beyond? “Establishing good gut health early on in life is highly beneficial,” says Dr Harvey. “There are several factors which can influence infant gut health.”


gut health baby


What influences gut health in infants?

1. During gestation

Your baby receives a first does of bacteria during gestation through receiving nutrients from the placenta. “It was once believed that babies are born with ‘virgin guts’ and all gut health was built after birth,” says Dr Harvey. “However we now know that is not the case and gut health begins building in utero.”

While you may be craving a cheeseburger or that chocolate fudge brownie ensure you still maintain a balanced diet during pregnancy. “Eating nutritionally balanced foods will help transfer nutrients and good bacteria across the placenta as well as being good for your health,” says Dr Harvey.


2. Birthing style

The second dose of bacteria is passed on to infants through childbirth. “Vaginal and intestinal microflora of the mother are passed onto baby through vaginal birth,” says Dr Harvey.

As baby passes through the birth canal it is exposed to the plethora of good bacteria. “However, this does not mean that babies born via c-section will be any worse off than those born vaginally,” says Dr Harvey.

“Requesting immediate skin-to-skin contact with mum or dad after birth can also help deliver good bacteria from your skin to your baby as well as delaying the first bath for 12 hours after birth.”


 skin to skin contact after birth


3. Feeding

Breastmilk is a rich source of prebiotics to help lay the foundations of gut health for babies. “Breastmilk contains around 200 different types of prebiotics which feed the good bacteria within the gut,” says Dr Harvey.

As the digestive system is very immature upon birth many babies lose up to 10% of their body weight in the first few days as they adjust. The enzymes within breastmilk can also help make up for the lack of digestive enzymes babies have and assist with putting this weight back quicker.

“Breastfed newborns have been found to have different gut microbiome than formula fed babies,” says Dr Harvey. “However, this is not to say that breastfeeding is the best option for everyone. There are a number of factors that come into play when deciding how to feed your baby. At the end of the day fed is best.”

Although breastfed and formula fed babies have shown to have different gut microbiome the effects of this are yet to be fully understood or quantified.


4. After 6 months

“Your babies digestive system is relatively immature after birth and the first six months will see enormous changes,” says Dr Harvey. “Within the first six months babies are developing their ability to produce enzymes that help digest food and create antibodies to protect themselves against pathogens.”

After this time it is important to continue to foster good gut health through nutrition, proper sleep and hydration. “Yoghurt contains many live and active cultures, good bacteria, that can be beneficial for young children,” says Dr Harvey. “Adequate sleep and hydration are also key components of gut health and general wellbeing.”

In addition to this children can acquire good gut bacteria and help boost their immune systems through environmental factors. “Acquired immunity plays a big role in building a strong immune system and healthy gut,” says Dr Harvey. “Ensuring the environment is not too clean and sanitised allows children to pick up certain bacteria and bugs from the environment in small quantities which strengthens their immunity.”

About the expert
Dr Ryan Harvey is the Deputy Clinical Director at House Call Doctor. Dr Harvey is highly experienced in paediatrics, and has administered medical care to children living in remote overseas communities. He now works with many families, administering acute care when unexpected medical situations arise overnight.


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