The use of probiotics at the beginning of life cannot be stressed enough. A probiotic is a microorganism living within the body that positively contributes to the body's health. A healthy body contains ten times more probiotic bacteria than body cells. These bacteria make up 70% of our immune system and are our first line of defense against pathogenic forms of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other parasites that will invade and infect our body.
A baby is born with a sterile gut. The infant's first introduction to bacteria comes from the mother's vagina as they travel down the birth canal. In a healthy mom the main colonizing strain of bacteria is called Bifidobacterium infantis. Caesarean section babies have a much lower chance of acquiring this healthy strain of bacteria, less than 1% of C-section babies are properly colonized while 60% of vaginal births are colonized. If the mother does not have healthy strains of bacteria colonizing her vagina then the baby will be introduced to whatever strains are present including pathogenic strains.
Mother's colostrum may contain up to 40% probiotic bacteria assuming the mother is not taking antibiotics. The main strain present will be bifidobacteria which sets up an environment that makes it easier for other probiotic strains to colonize later on in life. Commercial formula does not contain beneficial probiotics and contains many sugars and other ingredients that will feed pathogens.
Bacteria begin to colonize and live within the intestinal wall within the first few years of life. These resident strains become a part of our inner ecosystem and are crucial to the proper functioning of our digestive and immune systems. That is why it is important to limit antibiotic use during the first few years of life so these colonies have an opportunity to become healthy.
While resident bacteria populations can diminish due to stress, antibiotic use, and toxin exposure it doesn't appear that supplementing with probiotics later in life will replace resident strains. They may however provide a hospitable environment to discourage the growth of pathogens and allow the resident strains to recover. That is why it is so important to get the right kind of bacterial strains living in the bowel wall within the first few years of life. If pathogenic strains are allowed to form colonies within the digestive tract it can be nearly impossible to completely eradicate them.
What does all of this mean for your baby? At the start of life there may be colic, reflux, skin rashes and/or poor weight gain. Later immune system compromise will result in frequent illness, ear infection, eczema, allergies, asthma, and bowel disfunction. Depending on the types of pathogens and the amount of damage we may even be talking about ADD, ADHD, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, or Autism. These are all disorders that have drastically increased over the last few decades as antibiotic use has increased.
I recommend that every woman who wants to have a baby begin supplementing with probiotics now. The sooner you can bring your own gut bacteria into balance, the easier it will be for your child. If you are pregnant or nursing you will also want to supplement with beneficial bacteria. You may want to consider a vaginal wash of beneficial bacteria to discourage pathogens within your vaginal tract. Having a powdered form of B. infantis will be crucial in ensuring early colonization. I suggest placing some in the infants mouth, dusting the nipples with it before breastfeeding, and possibly even putting some in the infant's bathwater or rubbing a diluted form over their skin. Frequent exposure to the right forms of probiotic bacteria are your child's best defense against chronic illness and degenerative diseases. This one simple thing will make a drastic difference in the health of your child for the rest of their life. More people need to be doing this because I have seen too many unhealthy babies. Get the word out!
To Your Health,
Kathryn Doran-Fisher is a Traditional Naturopath, Certified GAPS Practitioner and owner of Elder & Sage.