First of all, an important note before you hopefully devour this article with joy: Your baby will grow up with your love and all your efforts. No matter how hard you try, you will never really be able to control all the small inhabitants of the intestine, no one can do that.
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Microorganisms – around, on and in the body
Bacteria are simply everywhere. But not just bacteria: also fungi, yeasts and countless other microorganisms that form complex micro-bacterial communities.
They live around, on and in us: on door handles, ballpoint pens, slides and swings, but also on the skin, in the digestive tract, in the respiratory tract, in the genital area and also in mothers' breast milk. There are “bad” bacteria that make us sick, but there are also millions of “good” ones. The “good ones” support us and your baby’s body in staying or becoming healthy and happy.
Interestingly, by far the largest amount of bacteria in the human body is in the intestine, more precisely in the large intestine: more than 90%. Around 100 trillion bacteria live here and form the intestinal flora or microbiome. That's right, 100 trillion, that's quite a lot of zeros, 12 zeros to be exact. The composition of the intestinal inhabitants or bacterial strains is as individual as a fingerprint.
Because over the course of our lives, we and our little babies come into contact with different people and things and with their microorganisms.
The individual microbiome develops in the first four years of life and then remains relatively stable, according to current research results. In a normally healthy person there are significantly more “good” bacteria, around 85%, and only around 15% “bad” bacteria.
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Tasks: Digestion, immune defense and communication with the brain
One of the useful tasks of the intestine is digestion and thus the absorption of nutrients. Without the help of the bacteria in the intestine, vitamins, minerals and amino acids from the mashed food would not easily pass through the intestinal mucosa into the blood and the rest of the body. Okay, baby's food is usually already mushy or liquid before it reaches the stomach, but it is still reduced in size by the body down to the small intestine. The intestinal microbiome also protects us from infections, i.e. diseases. Because immune cells are essentially formed in the intestine. Bacteria therefore play an important role in babies and our immune system. If good bacteria in the intestine are destroyed, the immune system can suffer or not be formed.
Have you ever heard of the happiness hormone serotonin? 90% of this is produced in the intestine and passed on to the brain. One reason why the influence of intestinal bacteria on depression is being researched: the communication between the intestine and the brain.
Both are still developing in babies. But that's exactly why, according to current studies, supporting the development of the microbiota in the intestine with a healthy diet is recommended.
Excursus Prebiotics in baby milk A short excursion to the two good bacteria bifidobacteria and lactobacilli that live in the intestinal flora. You may have even heard of them before, as they are quite popular in the human intestine. In order for the two bacterial strains to do their work, they need the right food. They get this via prebiotics such as GOS .
Gut-brain axis communication
As a mom or dad, you are probably fully aware of how closely the intestines and brain are connected. The two are responsible for the very first emotions of infants. Your baby loves to be full, is distressed when he's hungry and whiny when he's gassy. The “I” of babies is clearly made up of the intestines and brain.
However, not all information is transmitted from the gut to the brain. Not every unchewed crumb has something to say in the brain. There is information that the intestine processes itself. However, when something happens in the gut that the brain should know about, that information is sent to the brain via the vagus nerve and still has to get past the brain's gatekeeper, the thalamus. Only then does the information enter babies or our consciousness. Such information that comes through is from the pain and vomiting center - “Attention, it's about to start, where is the toilet?” Or just: “Help mom, dad don’t leave me alone!”
Stress is an example of communication in the other direction. If the body is under stress, it needs more energy, which it also gets from the intestines. The intestine slows down its tasks to help the brain. However, the digestive process suffers as a result, which can lead to diarrhea and so on.
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There is a lot of research on the topic of the gut-brain axis. But also general hypotheses about the influence of the intestine on the cognitive and normal health development of infants and young children. In recent years there has been a lot of research on the topic in the USA and Europe. (At the end of the article you will find an overview of interesting studies.)
How the intestinal flora builds up
Also exciting is the question of how baby's microbiome develops. Mind you, it takes the body around four years to create a stable microbial community. No matter how much you want the best for your baby, be aware that you cannot identify every type of bacteria in your baby's intestinal flora. Why will become clear again in this section.
In the past, it was assumed that fetuses were completely sterile and that babies only came into contact with the first bacteria during birth. However, this has now been refuted. Some bacteria can apparently even pass from the father to the fetus through skin-to-skin contact with the mother during pregnancy . Of course, microbes on and in mom's body also play a role: what she eats, how much stress she has and so on.
During a vaginal birth, a baby receives the ideal mix of intestinal and vaginal microbes from its mother and later possibly also bacteria from breast milk. In the past, these important bacteria were washed off directly. But it can be “dirty”. Ideally, the baby is placed on the mother's skin in the first few hours after birth - without being scrubbed.
Babies born via cesarean section lack this mix of bacteria. But that doesn't mean that they won't get any bacteria after giving birth. Because the people who hold the baby after birth are not free of bacteria. Added to this are the hospital bacteria, regardless of whether it is a cesarean section or vaginal birth.
To compensate for the potential bacterial disadvantage of giving birth by cesarean section, there are procedures such as “vaginal seeding” or “bacterial bath” in which a swab of the mother's vaginal fluid is given to the baby in the hospital. Other methods use a mixture of the mother's gut bacteria mixed with breast milk. Which method is the best and whether it is of any use is hotly debated in scientific circles. It is important that the mother is healthy and that there are no streptococci or similar dangerous bacteria in the vagina and intestines.
Even if the mother's bacterial shower is missing, a baby has four years to build up a healthy microbiome with environmental influences and an age-appropriate diet.
Breastfeeding and bottles
Of course, breast milk is the best form of nutrition for babies. Countless studies show that it contains all the nutrients and bacteria that babies need for normal development.
However, you don't have to worry if you don't breastfeed your baby. The growth of “good” bacteria in baby’s microbiome can of course also be supported with bottle feeding.
Diet has a strong influence on the bacterial composition in the intestine. This is also visible during bowel movements . The colour in the diaper varies greatly due to the bacteria contained in the food - but this is definitely not new to you.
Cuddling is also an environmental influence that influences the microbiome. Babies receive numerous valuable bacteria through the important cuddles with mom and dad. Therefore: cuddle-free! Enjoy this magical first time together.
Our tip: Find out about the ingredients in baby food .
And don't forget one thing with all this information: you're doing great!
EUFIC: The influence of the gut microbiota on physical and mental health. link
National Library of Medicine: Study of the impact of early childhood intervention with bifidobacteria on the fecal microbiota and metabolome of the healthy infant. link
Federal Office for Risk Assessment: Statement on the health benefits of infant formula and follow-on formula with the addition of “probiotics”. link
Science Translational Medicine: Gut microbiota influences blood-brain barrier permeability in mice. link
Cell: Maternal fecal microbiota transplantation in infants born by cesarean section rapidly restores normal development of the gut microbiome. link
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