Our guts sure aren’t what they used to be, but there may be hope…
I have seen thousands of babies in the last 30 years as a maternal/child RN and 15 years as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). During this time, I have observed a disturbing trend. Almost 100% of the babies I see in my private practice, Gulf Coast Breastfeeding Center, have gastrointestinal symptoms. These include reflux, excessive fussiness/colic, eczema, diaper rash, facial/scalp rash, or a combination of these. Some unfortunate babies present with all of the above and appear quite miserable (as do the parents).
I have been researching and promoting positive gut health for both mother and baby in an attempt to mitigate these negative GI symptoms in hopes for more content babies (and parents) as nature intended. What went wrong with our gut health: Overuse of antibiotics, Increase in c-section rates, Diets high in processed foods, Dairy consumption, and the list goes on and on.
Antibiotics kill the “good” bacteria in our guts. This leaves room for “bad” bacteria to grow. Think of gut flora as “flowers” and bad bacteria as “weeds”. If the flowers are not plentiful, the weeds will choke out the very bacteria that protect and strengthen our immune systems. This allows for harmful bacteria to grow/multiply thus increasing the risk of inflammation. Inflammation leads to allergies and a host of diseases.
C-Section: Infants born vaginally come in direct contact with the mother’s vaginal and intestinal flora as they pass through the birth canal, providing an important source of good bacteria to colonize their gut microbiomes. Babies born via C-section miss out on this and instead acquire whatever bacteria happen to be in the environment, starting them off at a disadvantage. One study found that the primary gut flora in infants born by C-section can be disturbed for up to six months after birth. Another study showed that mode of delivery was associated with differences in intestinal microbes for seven years after delivery. Furthermore, C-sections require antibiotics to decrease the risk of wound infection wiping out the vast majority of good bacteria. Read about “Seeding” your baby with vaginal fluid swabs after delivery to convey some of the good bacteria missed by C-Section.
Breastfed babies get good bacteria from their mother IF she has them in her gut. Using the flower analogy above, a breastfeeding mother that has a history of antibiotics may have extremely limited “flowers” to pass to her baby through her milk which means her baby has limited good flora in which to fight bad, infection inducing, bacteria. We simply can’t give our babies what we ourselves don’t have enough of in the first place.
Formula fed infants get little, if any, of the good bacteria introduced through their food.
B. Infantis has long been thought of as one of, if not THE most important probiotic strain in our guts. It has been virtually non-existent in the last few decades where it once had been plentiful since the dawn of time. Think of B. Infantis as the largest, most beautiful “flower” in our gut garden. Then imagine not having it. According to research as many as nine out of ten babies no longer have B. Infantis in their “gardens”. What does this mean? It means that there is lots of room left in the absence of B. Infantis for other bad bacteria to take up space and grow in our babies’ immune systems. We simply can't give our breastfed babies what we ourselves do not have in plentiful amounts, if any at all. This is why it is imperative to consider introducing this important bacteria to our guts as well as our babies.
Could it be that through my personal research I have stumbled across the answer to improved infant gut health? Even though I had a good understanding of the role probiotics play in our guts, directly influencing our immune systems, I still was left scratching my head as to what was the best probiotic to recommend. Now, I am focusing on what is, or isn’t in the bottle of probiotics these days. When choosing a probiotic strongly consider B. Infantis as the primary strain of good bacteria (flower). There are also others that are extremely important for moms and babies to consider such as L. reuteri and L. rhamnosus.
Thank you for reading this article and considering this information. I am not a medical provider, nor have I conducted my own research. I am however, a decades long advocate for all mothers and babies. I am very hopeful that this “discovery” will lead to happy, healthier babies and eventually healthier communities as a result of introducing the long, lost B. Infantis.
Lewis ZT, Totten SM, Smilowitz JT et al. Maternal fucosyltransferase 2 status affects the gut bifidobacterial communities of breastfed infants. Microbiome. 2015;3:13. doi: 10.1186/s40168-015-0071-z. eCollection 2015.